Sida's work in North Macedonia
North Macedonia is one of Europe’s poorest countries. Developments in democracy and human rights have gone in the right direction in recent years, but the country is characterised by internal divisions. Sida supports North Macedonia’s integration with the EU and focuses on human rights, democracy and climate.
Progress has been made
Democracy and respect for human rights have been significantly strengthened since 2017. The press and media climate has become more free and dialogue between the state and civil society has improved. The government has begun to more actively promote gender equality and LGBTQI rights.
The education system is being modernised, with the goal of increasing teachers’ skills, encouraging more schools to combat discrimination, and ending the corporal punishment of pupils.
The government is making major investments aimed at developing the country’s agriculture so that better use can be made of North Macedonia’s fertile soil. One third of the working population works in agriculture, and the country is well-positioned to both supply its population with food and export fruit and vegetables to other countries.
Many are poor
A fifth of the population lives in poverty.1 North Macedonia is one of Europe’s poorest countries.
Access to social services
Access to care, education and social services is very deficient and does not benefit all people. Corruption2 further diminishes people’s social security. In the healthcare system, for example, bribery and the offering of services are a widespread way of obtaining better and faster treatment, particularly for the poorest citizens. The justice sector fails to remain impartial.
Society is very segregated and there are major tensions between different ethnic groups. Women and minority groups such as Roma and LGBTQI people are subjected to discrimination.
Reform cooperation in North Macedonia
Between 2006 and 2016, political rule in North Macedonia became increasingly authoritarian. The repression of civil society and the media increased and the population’s confidence in the state evaporated.
Since the regime change in 2017, the government has made efforts to strengthen democracy and respect for human rights. However, the country is still characterised by internal divisions. Political debate and public administration are polarised and corruption is widespread.
The country became a candidate country for EU membership in 2005, and in the spring of 2020 the EU announced that North Macedonia may now start membership negotiations with the Union. At the same time, the country became a member of NATO.
Economic development and integration with the EU
A large proportion of the population work in the informal sector, where wages are often low and working conditions poor.3 Nearly one third of all young people are unemployed.4 Many people leave the country, mainly for low-wage jobs abroad, according to the International Labour Organization.
After almost 30 years, the name dispute with Greece has finally been resolved, opening the way for continued efforts to join the EU. North Macedonia has begun the process of implementing the major reforms necessary in order to become a member of the Union.
Northern Macedonia has begun the process of bringing about the major reforms needed to join the European Union. The process was halted for 30 years due to a name dispute with Greece. Once resolved, a new dispute, this time about language, arose with Bulgaria, stopping Macedonia’s EU rapprochement.5
National address register
The country’s institutions currently lack capacity, which is an obstacle to EU membership. Sida supports a collaboration between Lantmäteriet and its counterpart in North Macedonia, which is working to establish a national address registry. This is necessary in order to conduct censuses and maintain an accurate electoral register. Cooperation between Statistics Sweden (SCB) and its North Macedonian counterpart is increasing the accessibility and use of national statistics.
Climate change, poor infrastructure, complex regulatory frameworks and a lack of access to funding and loans prevent the agricultural sector from meeting its potential. Through We Effect, Sida supports local organisations that develop rural areas. They promote entrepreneurship, competitiveness and productivity and work to ensure that more people in rural areas – especially women and youth – find employment.
Democracy and human rights
Respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law is weak in several areas. Certain improvements have been made since 2017, but corruption remains rampant and many people lack access to welfare services.
Women's political influence
Women face discrimination in the labour market, have less access to care, and are under-represented in politics. Rape and domestic violence are rarely reported. Through the organisation Kvinna till kvinna, Sida supports several local organisations that work to promote women’s rights – combating gender-based violence, fostering women’s political influence, and protecting their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Democratic control of the security service
In a 2015 scandal, it was revealed that the country’s intelligence services had mass-surveilled thousands of North Macedonians, a serious violation of their fundamental rights. Sida supports the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF), which works to reform and increase democratic control of the security and intelligence services in the country.
Climate, environment and resilience
Northern Macedonia has taken important steps to improve the environment in several areas. The country has reduced its dependence on fossil energy sources and strengthened the management of waste and chemicals.6 However, the environmental situation remains serious, especially with regard to air, water and soil pollution.7
Nature conservation and air quality
The environmental and climate situation is lagging behind, due in part to poor environmental management and non-compliance with the country’s environmental regulations. Sida supports cooperation between the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and North Macedonia’s Ministry of Environment in areas such as nature conservation, air quality monitoring and preparation of the environmental and climate reforms that the EU requires for membership.
The country’s air pollution is among the worst in Europe8 and is harmful to both the environment and human health. The UN agency UNDP works to reduce air pollution and raise public awareness. UNDP is also pushing for legislative changes to reduce emissions from domestic heating.
Sources on this page
- Poverty North Macedonia on the World bank webpage
- Corruption Perception Index Macedonia at the Transparency International webpage
- Jobs in the informal sector in North Macedonia on the World bank webpage
- Youth unemplyment in North Macedonia at Statista (source: ILO)
- About the dispute Bulgaria and North Macedonia on the Euronews webpage
- About North Macedonia´s road to sustainable development on the UNECE webpage
- Environmental situation in North Macedonia on the European Environment Agency (EEA) webpage
- Most polluted countries in the world at the IQAir webpage
Updated: 29 October 2021