APPG seeks to enhance bilateral relations with Macedonia
The APPG for Macedonia delegation comprised four members of the UK Parliament led by the APPG Chair, Karen Lumley MP (Conservative) and Stuart Andrew MP (Conservative), Gemma Doyle MP (Labour) and Clive Betts MP (Labour). Support was also provided by Ms Lucy Lermer from Ms Lumley’s Office.
The main objective of the visit was to meet Macedonian parliamentary counterparts and others to learn more about the country’s Parliament, and more about Macedonia, in general. We had an extremely busy two-day programme which included meeting the Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, and the Foreign Minister Nikola Popvski, together with the Speaker of the Assembly, the Deputy Leader of the Democratic Union for Integration Party (DUI), the Leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DLP) and representatives of the Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM) Party.
We were also fortunate to not only visit Skopje but also Tetovo, the home of the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia. Obviously our meetings concentrated on the current political situations including press control and issues facing the judiciary. Also, as there is a boycott in Parliament at this time, we tried to address with the opposition parties ways of progressing their concerns in negotiations with the government sufficient to see them able to return to Parliament.
The visit provided a valuable opportunity for very wide ranging discussions on the economy and also of course entry into the European Union and NATO. Issues related to the country’s long-running bilateral dispute with Greece (which contests its use of the country name, Macedonia) remains a big hurdle for the country’s ambitions and Macedonia continues to seek UK support in resolving this matter once and for all. I agreed once again to write to the Foreign Secretary asking for some clarification and requesting that he look at this again.
We also met members of the British Macedonian business community which was very interesting. Of the Balkan countries visited recently, Macedonia seems to be the most successful country in terms of attracting inward investment from the UK.
We were also able to have lunch with members of the Civil Society there to get a different perspective on the current situation, and that was most illuminating. In addressing issues with the media, we had a round table discussion with editors and journalists of the print media. There was a feeling that there needed to be more freedom given to all types of media and that reform was needed.
We met with students from the South Eastern European University, who, together with the British Embassy, have a project to encourage youth to become involved with politics. We wish them well.
I also met with Zana, one of the country’s national newspapers and gave an interview about our visit and UK Parliament’s interest in enhancing its relations with Macedonia.
Finally, one of the highlights of the trip was the opportunity to see a state kindergarten, Fidani, located in Chair, outside Skopje. We met the Mayor of Chair and the Principal of the kindergarten, together with the children and teachers of this ethnically integrated nursery school. It gave us great hope that more of these types of enterprises could be set up in the country.
As usual we had great co-operation from the British Embassy and in particular I would like to highlight the help received from Bela Trenevska-Shotarovska who assisted us in our preparations for the visit and accompanied us throughout. It was a very fruitful and fascinating visit and we hope to continue lasting friendship and co-operation with our colleagues across all parties in Macedonia in the years ahead.