SEATTLE — Officially named The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia but usually referred to as simply Macedonia, the Eastern European nations sits north of the Greek province with the same name and borders Bulgaria in the east, Serbia to the north and Albania to the west. Since gaining independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Macedonia has endured internal strife and external political pressure from its neighbors. Although much of the external pressure has been relived and Macedonia is a candidate to join both the European Union and NATO, internal political instability mars its attempts to finish these negotiations. To help improve the domestic situation, the world has stepped up to fund development projects in Macedonia.
Entrance to the European Union
In 2005, Macedonia became a candidate for membership in the European Union. The same issues holding back its economic growth, such as political corruption and unequal enforcement of regulatory laws, are also hindering its entrance into the European Union. To counter these issues, the European Union has implemented development projects in Macedonia in four different areas: social, political, economic and technical assistance.
There are two types of social programs underway in Macedonia. The first type of programs are aimed at assisting other cultural groups and rural Macedonians to become more involved in Macedonian society in order to promote peace and understanding between cultures. The second type is to involve all Macedonians in domestic politics to help them make informed decisions and to help Macedonians learn about the European Union. Politically, negotiations have been taking place between the EU and Macedonia. The last major successful negotiation took place in 2009, when Macedonia became part of the Schengen Area.
Trade with Europe is important to the Macedonian economy. Development projects aimed at Macedonian businesses are welcomed and are the main focus of the economic arm of the EU aid programs. This has become increasingly important to the Macedonian economy since 2015, as political turmoil slowed GDP growth in 2016.
Education for the Young and Old
Since 1996, the United States Peace Corps has operated in Macedonia. The development projects in Macedonia led by the Peace Corps are youth education and community economic development. The education programs are implemented together with the Ministry of Education and Science of Macedonia. Peace Corps volunteers serve in classrooms from primary through secondary schools teaching English. Along with English, the volunteers are there to pass on new teaching techniques to help classroom development. Community economic development programs help improve the efficiency of local businesses. Peace Corps volunteers work with local leaders, local businesses, NGOs and the local governments to achieve this goal.
Economic growth is not the end of this program. The program also aims to teach tolerance and motivation, hoping to involve as many people in the Macedonian economy as possible.
Infrastructure Development Projects in Macedonia
The World Bank has invested in Macedonia, including in the development of its infrastructure. The quality of the country’s infrastructure often impacts the nation’s economy both on the macro and micro level. To help boost economic growth, the World Bank began an infrastructure project in 2015, the Road Upgrading and Development Project. This project will cost $90 million once it is completed. The section of road being upgraded is on the eastern side of the capital, Skopje. It will improve the roadways that connect Skopje to Bulgaria, which will increase the quality of trade between the two nations and hopefully lead to closer ties.
The United States supports Macedonia’s integration into NATO and further relations with the greater Euro-Atlantic community. In its current economic state, Macedonia would not be able to support itself following the parameters required for its entrance. As a result, the United States has been supporting the Macedonian government and economy to help maintain economic and democratic stability.
This has led to closer trade relations with the United States. In 2016, trade between the U.S. and Macedonia rose by 18 percent. Macedonia imports heavy machinery and electronics from the U.S., and the U.S. imports iron, clothing and tobacco from Macedonia. It is important to the United States that Macedonia transitions to a market economy. Increasing the production of export goods has the potential to create jobs in Macedonia. This will hopefully reduce the need to fund development projects in Macedonia in the future.
Macedonia’s journey since gaining independence has not been an easy path. However, its future looks bright, as long as its government finds stability and its economy grows to support its population. Continuing development projects in Macedonia will help lead it in that direction. Eventually, Macedonia will be able to support itself and see its aspirations to join the EU and NATO realized. When this happens, Macedonia will be able to offer aid to other nations in need.
– Nick DeMarco