North Macedonia – annual report 2020

Strategic Framework 

Legal Policy Starting Point

The Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU entered into force in April 2004. North Macedonia experienced its deepest political crisis since the beginning of the millennium from 2015 to May 2017, when tens of thousands of wiretap transcripts of government officials surfaced. This led to fresh elections, and a new, reform-minded coalition took office in 2017 after a protracted period of negotiations. Once the dispute with Greece over the name of the state had been settled – which resulted in the new name of North Macedonia – the country hoped for the long-awaited start of accession negotiations with the EU (it has possessed candidate status since 2005) – but so far without success. North Macedonia has been a NATO member since March 2020. New elections were held in July 2020 – despite the COVID-19 pandemic – which confirmed the existing reform government, albeit with losses. When the new Minister of Justice Bojan Maricˇic´ took office, he agreed with IRZ to broaden advisory support for legislation projects in 2021.

Overall Concept 

IRZ commenced its activities in the partner state in 2000 within the framework of the Stability Pact and increased them considerably over the second half of the decade. The IRZ partners in North Macedonia are the Ministry of Justice, the Constitutional Court, the Academy for Judges and Public Prosecutors “Pavel Shatev”, the Government Agent before the ECHR, the non-governmental organisation Institute for Democracy as well as academics from the Faculty of Law in Skopje. During the reporting year, IRZ replaced its physical events with virtual formats in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and complemented its programme with publications.

The European Commission’s country report that was published in October 2020 described a positive development overall – but with indications of a continued need for reform within the judicial system. IRZ is responding to this analysis by intensifying the promotion of young legal professionals through measures that focus on judicial independence and effective trial management, as well as activities in the area of constitutional law.

Focus of Activity in 2020

Constitutional Law, Human Rights and their Enforceability

  • Online expert talks with the Constitutional Court on the content, as well as legal procedures and organisational requirements for the introduction of a constitutional complaint in North Macedonia
  • Participation by judges of the Constitutional Court of North Macedonia in a virtual, regional constitutional court conference co-hosted by the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the topic of “dissenting votes in the practice of the constitutional courts”
  • Bilateral advice to the Constitutional Court of North Macedonia, in particular on COVID-19 decisions of the German Federal Constitutional Court
  • Distribution of translated decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court on constitutional matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other constitutional issues
  • Publication of the ninth newsletter “Current information on the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to North Macedonia” in Macedonian and Albanian in cooperation with the Government Agent of North Macedonia before the ECHR
  • Online events on the topic of “Reform of the Constitutional Court” with the non-governmental organisation “Institute for Democracy”

Civil and Commercial Law 

  • Two online training seminars on “Conducting trials in civil cases” and “Judicial promotion of settlements” with the Academy “Pavel Shatev”

Administration of Justice

  • Operation and expansion of the website with publications co-edited by IRZ in Macedonian and other regional languages
  • Dissemination to selected project partners of specialist journals on IRZ project work in related languages

Criminal and Penitentiary Law

  • Preparation of expert opinions on the reform of the Criminal Code of North Macedonia in the areas of:
    • artificial parenthood and cloning
    • computer criminality
    • insolvency offences
    • protection of elections
    • counter terrorism
    • white collar crime
  • Advice on the further development of the regulatory framework as the basis for a functioning probation system in North Macedonia through the provision of translations and analyses Advice to the Ministry of Justice in North Macedonia on media and press freedom

Basic and Further Training

  • Online seminar series on “Judiciary and the Media” for court presidents and heads of public prosecutor’s offices
  • Involvement of participants from North Macedonia in a regional online workshop series for German-speaking IRZ alumni from the partner states Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia on the topics of:
    • developments in German law regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on German law and the legal system of states in the region
    • labour law in Germany
    • arbitration in Germany, based on the example of the German Arbitration Institute (DIS)
  • Popularisation of German and European law as a general roadmap for legal transformation by providing relevant literature to various partner institutions

Projects funded by the European Union 

EU Twinning Project: “Building of the institutional capacity of the Investigative Centres” 

IRZ has been in charge of the project to establish investigative centres in the public prosecutor’s offices of North Macedonia since May 2019. The Croatian Ministry of Justice is the junior partner in this project, which is endowed with a budget of € 1 million and is scheduled to run for 24 months. In line with current reform efforts by the government of North Macedonia, the national authorities are receiving support in the fight against organised crime and corruption. Their competencies are also being strengthened through the establishment of joint investigation centres at the public prosecutor’s offices in Skopje, Kumanovo and Tetovo. The key components are:

  • Improvement of organisation structures and workflows
  • Further training for public prosecutors, police officers, customs officers and tax investigators
  • Establishment of inter-agency networks
  • Intensification of cooperation between the agencies at national and international level
The IRZ experts were able to support the investigation centres by improving the regulatory framework for organisational structure and working methodologies together with their Macedonian partners. This was achieved, among other things, by establishing standard operating procedures and improving cooperation between public prosecutor’s offices and criminal prosecution agencies, with a focus on investigative centres. Regulations were also developed for the sharing of information between, and access to databases by, institutions such as the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Customs Administration and the Financial Police.

In addition, the experts will provide specific training to build the investigative competences of the participating agencies and in doing so promote effective and sustainable cooperation at national and international level. Implementation of the project had to be suspended in May 2020 due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and will resume in January 2021. This will mainly involve the preparation and hosting of training courses. Their aim is to optimise the capabilities of investigators, public prosecutors and legal personnel in the criminal prosecution authorities.

EU Twinning Project: “Strengthening of the penitentiary system and the probation service”

This Twinning Project aims to strengthen the penitentiary system by improving the capacity of the Directorate for Execution of Sanctions at the Ministry of Justice of North Macedonia and other relevant stakeholders, as well as by providing advice on the maintenance of existing and new correctional facilities. Other objectives include the development of a probation system and the improvement of cooperation between state institutions and non-governmental organisations. IRZ has been implementing the project since August 2018 together with its Dutch junior partner, the Center for International Legal Cooperation (CILC), in close cooperation with the Directorate for Execution of Sanctions (DES) at the Ministry of Justice of North Macedonia.

The further training events for managers at DES and the correctional institutions were continued in 2020 based on the training programmes created last year; these include an introduction to applying the OSRA risk analysis system in the penitentiary system. In regard to probation services, seminars were held to present the preconditions for imposing suspended sentences and the practical experiences acquired in the EU partner states. Material was also compiled for a PR strategy to raise awareness among the general population and legal personnel for the possibility of alternative sentencing measures and to establish the probation system as an important pillar within the penal system.

The project was suspended from May until early December 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting inability to hold the events. A project extension of three months was agreed in order to complete the outstanding measures and to ensure that the results achieved so far are preserved in the long term.


IRZ intends to become more involved in the planned judicial reform in the future, especially in the provision of legislative advice. Its intention in this regard is to provide even stronger support for the EU’s Western Balkans Strategy. Moreover, the proven measures of basic and further training are scheduled to continue in order to bolster application of the law. Cooperation with the Constitutional Court will also be expanded to promote the creation of a Constitutional Court Act and the introduction of a constitutional complaint.