Impressions from Macedonia
Publication date: 23 April 2009
South-east Europe is changing fast. Efforts to join the European Union are fuelling political changes across the board, not least in the area of transport and mobility. Wil Botman, Director General of the FIA's European Bureau, went to see for himself.
Wil Botman, Director General of the FIA's European Bureau recently visited the Auto Moto Association of Macedonia (AMSM) at the invitation of the club’s president Spase Jovkovski. His talks in the Macedonian capital Skopje on the various activities of the club concentrated on what is happening in road infrastructure, road safety, and the role of the Macedonian club in promoting greater mobility. To learn more about this AMSM’s secretary general Dimitar Minovski facilitated a meeting with Macedonia’s Deputy Minister of Transport Ljupco Dimovski.
“This is a very interesting juncture in Macedonian history. The country is in a pre-accession phase to the EU. Brussels itself has established a large information centre in the capital," said Botman. "Because of this pre-accession context, Macedonians are very well aware of EU legislation. At the moment, for instance, they are implementing all the EU legislation on road safety," the Ministry’s Head of Department for the European Union told Botman. Macedonia's automobile club is also very active in Europe participating in meetings organized by the FIA in Brussels. Thanks to the AMSM's hard work, EuroRAP, for instance, is now part of the government's strategic road safety plan.
Botman also notes major plans to advance concretely in terms of road infrastructure. "The country has received a loan from the World Bank as well as putting forward its own investment funds," said Botman. One of the important goals is improving and enlarging the north-south motorway that goes from Serbia to Greece in the south.
Progress on road safety
Macedonia is also moving ahead in terms of road safety. "Last year in November, the country adopted a strategic five-year road safety plan. Macedonia intends to spend four million Euro per year on the plan. It is very ambitious and comprehensive in terms of road safety taking account of issues from driver behaviour, road infrastructure, to technical aspects of vehicle."
Has Macedonia reached EU standards in terms of road safety? Botman thinks they are very close. "I had a good impression. We drove around to see the infrastructure and traffic. The infrastructure is impressive," said Botman. He does, however admit that there is a far lower degree of car ownership in the country with only some 300,000 registered cars for a population of just over two million. "Road safety figures are not bad at all, even if this is partly explained by the lower percentage of people owning a car," added Botman.
"The road safety figures are only a little bit above the EU average. The challenge will then be to maintain this level as the number of vehicles and mileage grows," said Botman. Macedonia has been registering some seven deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, whilst the best performing countries in Europe have averages of five per 100,000. The worst performing countries in Europe average around 10. To improve road safety even further, the Macedonian automobile club now proposes signing the EU’s European Road Safety Charter.
A problem for road safety that Macedonians readily admit to is speeding. "There is not much awareness in the country when it comes to keeping to speed limits. This will be a major challenge," said Botman. One explanation is that there are relatively few cars on the road. "On the north-south highway, for instance, you can easily drive at 150 km although the speed limit is 120 km/h" said Botman.
Macedonia's largest insurance broker
Botman was surprised to see how active the Macedonian club is given that it currently has 8500 members. The AMSM has some 300 employees and carries out technical inspections of cars. A majority of the driving schools in the country are owned by the club. It has also branched out into performing driving examinations and into selling car and other types of insurance. In insurance AMSM is the largest broker in the country." On road safety, the AMSM is very active in advising the government on the new strategic plan. The parliament has now installed an advisory council on road safety choosing, as chair, an employee of the automobile club. That's the quality of the clubs’ involvement," said Botman.
South-east Europe Transport Community Treaty
All countries in the region have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the development of the Southeast Europe Core Regional Transport Network. This has led to a Transport Observatory, established recently in Belgrade and aimed at monitoring developments and promoting initiatives to improve the transport sector. The countries are going one step further negotiating with the EU on a South-east Europe Transport Community Treaty. The idea would be for the region to adopt EU legislation in the field of transport so as to push forward the process of constructing, maintaining and integrating transport infrastructure in the region but also with EU member states. The Swedish Presidency of the EU, which starts on 1 July 2009, aims to have negotiations concluded and signed by the end of the year.