- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2006

The good news from the Balkans is that the wars which have plagued the region for the past 15 years appear to be finished. The bad news is that there is still unfinished business at hand which, if not handled properly, could lead to more troubles.

Kosovo is still an open question. While the outcome is important, how final status negotiations are handled is just as important. With the decision by Montenegro to become independent now finalized, our friends in Serbia must be treated with dignity, respect and, above all, fairness to avoid a backlash. Those who are guiding this process must also take into consideration neighbors to Kosovo and Serbia and how the final outcome — whatever it may be — will affect them.

Other issues are also on the table that affect the internal stability and politics of each country in the region. Tomorrow, Macedonians will go to the polls to elect a new parliament and a new government. This will be the fourth time in our young history as a modern-day nation-state that we will elect those who will govern us for the next four years. There is much at stake in these elections.

Membership in the European Union is something Macedonia still strives for, as is NATO membership. While we strongly believe that NATO membership for us, along with our friends in Croatia and Albania, is just a few years away, membership in the European Union is further off. The EU, however, must accept all countries in the Balkans who aspire to EU membership — assuming we fulfill our commitments — to avoid having a black hole in Europe.

But the most important question as we go to the polls now is a question of basic economics and trust. The current government led by the Social Democrats has been acting more and more like the party they once were — the Communists. As a result, the economy is suffering and along with it, so are the people. At the same time, Macedonia has seen levels of trust in the government plummet to new lows. People trust the government about as much as they trust that gas prices will go down.

This is why our party, if elected with our coalition partners, has promised a new direction. We believe that Macedonians want to do more than just survive — they want to succeed. And to succeed we need a stronger, healthier economy — one that delivers jobs and growth, that frees individuals to pursue their God-given potential with a minimum of government interference and that opens up the creative spirit in people.

When my party, VMRO-DPMNE, was in government from 1998 to 2002, we saw the economy steamroll forward. In our first three years in office, we brought in more than $650 million in foreign direct investment. By comparison, the current government brought in a less-than-stellar $295 million in its first three years. (In contrast, next-door neighbor Bulgaria attracted over $1.4 billion in FDI during 2004 alone, while Macedonia has brought in $1.3 billion since gaining independence in 1991.)

In its Index of Economic Freedom for 2006, the Heritage Foundation, quoting an EBRD report, notes that FDI “is at a low level as many foreign investors continue to be deterred by a difficult investment climate” and that “FDI has dried up since then because of… continued weaknesses in the business environment.” The blame for this lies squarely with the government.

At the same time, GDP has not advanced as it should. We need growth rates of 6 percent to 8 percent per year to achieve our dream of EU membership by 2010. The current government has given Macedonians rates of 0.9 percent in 2002, 3.4 percent in 2003, 4.1 percent in 2004 and estimates of 3.2 percent for 2005. These are hardly inspiring numbers.

The current government was elected on promises of bringing higher rates of economic growth, increased employment, more FDI and increased salaries for the people. Instead, they have brought the opposite and with it contempt from the voters who believe the government has betrayed them.

As Heritage points out, there is a key correlation between economic freedom and democracy. If a country is rich, or least economically stable and moving toward becoming a rich country, then it is more than likely to be stable and peaceful internally and with its neighbors. Our new government will provide the economic growth which the current government has failed to deliver thereby providing greater stability and peace in a region which has experienced little of either.

Nikola Gruevski is president of the Macedonia party VMRO-DPMNE. He has served as trade minister (1998-99) and finance minister (2000-02).


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