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With the UK leaving the European Union soon, it is time to start looking South, to some of the potential new members eager to join the Union.

The small Balkan nation of Macedonia (soon to be called Northern Macedonia) is planning to join the EU by June 2019. But will the most air polluted country in Europe be able to live up to the necessary environmental standards in time to join?

We spoke with Deputy Environmental Minister of Macedonia Jani Makraduli to find out.

New Name, New Future

Macedonia is a fast-changing country. It will soon change its name to ‘Northern Macedonia’ and is gearing up to be allowed entry into the EU and NATO in the next 6 months. After a referendum for the name-change was declared invalid due to insufficient turnout, the transformation process was picked up by parliament instead. By mid-January, the small balkan country will be officially called Northern Macedonia.

The name-change of the republic has been posed as a requirement by Greece for the Greeks to lift their veto to Macedonia’s accession to the EU.

But is a change of name enough to set right decades of corruption and environmental debauchery?

Deal with Corruption first, Environment later

“The reform needed in Macedonia is primarily judicial. We need to deal with our history of corruption first. Environmental reform is only a secondary issue for now,” explains Jani Makraduli, deputy environmental minister of Macedonia, to me at the first Global Air Pollution conference in Geneva.

The need for an independent judiciary and the containment of the high corruption in the country were indeed at the top of the list in the last two EU reports on Macedonia. The lack of strong  air quality legislation was also clearly stated.

“The issue of air pollution is very critical to Macedonia,” agrees Makraduli. “The main source of Macedonia’s high air pollution is the fact that a lot of people burn wood to heat their homes. In the capital alone, we burn 400,000 m3 of wood every winter season. This is more than all the wood on mount Vodno [a large national park at the edge of the city].”

“Another source of air pollution is the high amount of often very old cars. More than half of the population of the country commutes to and from the capital every day, causing massive pollution.”

Thirdly – and not mentioned by Makraduli – a lack of domestic insulation adds to increased level of household energy consumption and pollution: a detailed research exploring the causes on air pollution done by UNDP office in Macedonia in 2017 called “Skopje is warming” found that over 90% of homes in the capital do not have any thermic insulation on their facades and roofs.

Joining the international family

The current Macedonian government plans to do anything it takes to join both the EU and NATO in 2019.

Joining NATO and the EU will have a series of positive effects on Macedonia and the Balkans,” explains Makraduli, “it will provide regional stability, it will allow for more stable investments into the country, it will improve environmental standards and will help to set up an integrative synergy approach to our policies.”

“To be able to join the EU, article 27 [entailing environmental regulations under the EU] will have to be opened. This will be the toughest negotiations in the coming months, and it will not be easy to get through all necessary reforms before the EU acquisition process needs to be finalised, in June.”

“Both environment and agriculture are the 2 sectors that will need to go through the largest reforms.”


Arthur Wyns

About Arthur Wyns

Arthur Wyns is a tropical biologist and science journalist who writes about climate change, environment and migration. He manages Programs and Partnerships for Climate Tracker since 2017.