Focus on North Macedonia
This week, we move from one of our biggest partner countries, Egypt, to one of our smallest, North Macedonia.
The Republic of North Macedonia is a small landlocked country in the heart of the Balkans with an ethnically diverse population of just over 2 million. A former constituent republic of Yugoslavia, North Macedonia became an independent state in 1991 with the break-up of the Yugoslav federation. It was granted candidate country status for EU membership in 2005. However the start of formal accession negotiations were delayed until 2020, pending the resolution of long-standing controversies with neighbouring countries, Bulgaria and Greece.
Since signing a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, North Macedonia has undergone considerable economic reform. The country has developed an open economy with trade accounting for more than 90% of GDP and has experienced steady, though slow, economic growth. North Macedonia has been successful attracting foreign direct investment with several of the world’s leading manufacturing companies, especially in the automotive sector establishing operations in the country.
Despite steady jobs growth, the country suffers low employment (48.9%)1 and high unemployment (18.4%). Youth unemployment is double the overall figure (35.5%). Some 18% of young people are neither in employment, education nor training (NEETs).
North Macedonia experiences very high emigration. According to a UN estimate quoted in a recent ETF study on migration and human capital in the country, more than 200 000 Macedonians left the country between 1990 and 2019, representing 32% of total population. Remittances account for 4% of GDP (though unofficial estimates point to a higher figure), exceeding the average total of FDI and official development aid received by the country since independence.
The European Union’s assistance to North Macedonia focuses on supporting the country to make the necessary reforms to meet the criteria for membership of the Union. Through the
Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA), the EU has been promoting institution building, cross-border cooperation, regional development, human resources, and
rural development. The country received EU funding of €664.2 million in the 2014-20 period, while also benefiting from regional programmes and the Technical Assistance and Information Exchange (TAIEX) programme aimed at building institutional capacity to implement EU law.
The ETF cooperates with and complements the work of the European Commission and the European External Action Service in its support to North Macedonia, and provides assistance to the Delegation of the European Union to North Macedonia, providing input to EU policy monitoring mechanisms, including progress on education and training and employment policy. The ETF also gives input to the Economic Reform Programme, assessment of progress on the Small Business Act for Europe and wider human capital developments through the Torino Process. It facilitates the participation of North Macedonian actors in European platforms and dialogue processes, and supports the Delegation in assessing the relevance, credibility and progress of relevant sector strategies.
Education and training have a major role in enabling the country to meet the requirement for EU accession and take advantage of the opportunities of growing integration with the EU single market. The ETF has been supporting and advising the government and local stakeholders in cooperation with the EU and other donors on a range of issues. These include implementing qualifications reform, reviewing the VET financing framework, establishing Regional VET Centres, mapping developments in work-based learning, refining the employment strategic framework and enhancing skills intelligence gathering to better link VET and labour market demand.
Besides the study on human capital and migration, mentioned above, the ETF has recently published a study on regional and local skills supply and demand. The ETF is also working with the EU and the ILO on the roll out of a youth guarantee scheme in North Macedonia and the other countries of the Western Balkans. Inspired by the EU Youth Guarantee, this is a commitment to provide every young person under the age of 30 not in employment, education or training with an offer of a job, a traineeship, an apprenticeship, or to continue education within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed.
1. Figures from the ETF’s Key Indicators in Education, Skills and Employment 2020