Shekerinska: NATO membership has sealed our first mandate and will serve as an EU entry ticket in the second

“NATO membership sealed our first, and my first mandate, but it also sealed our entry into the European Union in the second. We now must show that we are not holding our chair in NATO only formally, but that are sitting on that chair because the other Allies can count on us, just as we can count on their help and their solidarity.” If we are serious, if we are responsible, if we keep our word, we will have the same image in the EU, they will trust us more and give us better chances,” Defense Minister Radmila Shekerinska said at the first press conference in her second term dedicated to future plans for defense development, expressing her confidence that our entry into NATO will open the doors to the European Union in the upcoming years.

Minister Shekerinska stated 7 priorities in her new mandate – stable financing of the Army, opening of a Support Center to facilitate the access of domestic companies to the NATO market, modernization, investments in Krivolak range, reconstruction of barracks, maximum work transparency and openness and a new concept of civil – military cooperation.

“Thanks to the increased budget, the salaries of both soldiers and non-commissioned officers and officers have increased in some segments even over 50%, they received new equipment and are motivated to be successful soldiers in the service of their homeland,” the Minister said. An example of the increased interest in the Army, she said, is the fact that more than 700 candidates applied in the competition for the recruitment of professional soldiers for 70 positions, and over 1,000 persons have applied so far in the current announcement for the recruitment of 200 soldiers.

Iit is precisely the stable financing that enables the continuation of the reforms in the Ministry and the modernization of the Army.

“Last year we signed the first contract with the US Government for the acquisition of joint light tactical vehicles, two types – Oshkosh JLTV and Stryker that will completely change the face of our Army, especially the infantry, which is also our NATO force”, adding that for this acquisition of American-made armored vehicles, the Government-to-Government agreement was used for the first time, which restores trust in the system, and eliminates any possibilities for commercial or corrupt influences that were visible in our country in the past, as well as in other countries.

As the Minister pointed out, in a period of four to six years, a total of 151 vehicles will be procured, and the arrival of the first vehicles intended for the Light Infantry Battalion Group is planned for the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022.

Completely new personal protection equipment will be procured for all members of the Light Infantry Battalion Group, and the cyber and air defense projects continue, the Minister stated.

As a novelty, Shekerinska said that a Support Center to facilitate the access of domestic companies in NATO market will be established in the Ministry, in order to ensure productive communication between our companies, our chambers of commerce, but also the relevant NATO agencies.

“The size of this market is about $ 4 billion a year and it will really be a great success if our companies start performing and conquering this market. “This will be managed by a team of experts that we will be selected very carefully and will be given a chance to support our economy,” the Minister said.

Shekerinska announced the introduction of a novelty through changes in the public procurement system that will enable direct management of funds in the amount of about 500 euros by commands and barracks. This increases efficiency and improves working conditions, but also increases the responsibility and expectations of the first people within the structure of the Army.

We continue to invest in the modernization of the Krivolak training area, which is a serious national resource, but it is gradually turning into a serious NATO resource and will contribute to strengthening the local and domestic economy.

“We are working on improving the infrastructure of the training area inside and along the perimeter of the training area, as well as opening new approaches to the training area from the north, in order to make the use of the training area simpler and more efficient and less burdensome for a part of the local population,” the Minister said, adding that all operations are carried out by the Army’s engineering unit, using the newly procured machines, which made the whole process cheaper, faster and more efficient.

The Minister announced that this training area will be the location for the exercise Decisive Strike 21 this year, in May and June 2021, where we expect over 2,000 troops from the US, Bulgaria, Greece and the Army of the Republic of North Macedonia.

The improvement of the conditions for our soldiers continues through the reconstruction of the facilities in the barracks.

“In just a few months, we turned the ruined building in Kumanovo barracks into a new, nice building where the Southeast Europe Brigade is located. We are currently working on complete renovation of two large buildings in the barracks ‘Ilinden’, and the plan is to make the completely renovated buildings available by the end of the year. In the next two months, the renovation of a third building in the barracks ‘Ilinden’ will begin, and I hope that one of the buildings of the Military Academy will be renovated as well. This is the first time that projects have been launched and 5 large army facilities have been completed in the same year. “During the renovation, we are following the government policy whose goal is that by 2024 there will be no government institution that will use fuel oil or oil for heating, thus additionally polluting the environment”, the Minister said announcing that this trend of investing in better working conditions will continue.

Transparency remains on the Ministry’s list of priorities.

“I am especially plased that we managed to turn the most closed institution – the Ministry of Defense – into an institution that can and knows how to work based on the principles of active transparency. The Ministry of Defense is ranked first according to the Active Transparency Index. Publicity, openness and transparency have become our code. “We remain maximally open to the media and the citizens,” said the Minister and announced that next year North Macedonia will host the largest NATO Information and Communicators Conference. 500 communication experts from all NATO member states will gather in Skopje, and we will use that opportunity to promote our capacity, the Public Affairs Regional Center, which we intend, in cooperation with the Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Riga, to transform gradually into a regional center for fight against disinformation and fake news to cover NATO’s southern flank.

The Minister announced that by the end of the year we will develop a new concept for military-civilian cooperationdemonstrating that defense development means building a system for resilience to risks and creating national and allied capacities.

“Citizens and non-governmental organizations and local self-government also counted on the Army. In the past years, we were present in some of the Tetovo villages to deal with one type of disaster, we were present in Prespa, we were present in different municipalities for different purposes” the Minister said. The citizens count on the Army, she added, because it helped them in the most difficult times, because the Army is here for its citizens.

“I was honored to be part of the team that succeeded in bringing the country into NATO. However, a great part of the hard work is waiting for us in this second term. “Therefore, with the same strength, with the same energy, with a focus on improving everything we have at home, I am convinced that we will prove that our NATO membership was beyond well deserved and we will contribute to our country becoming safer and our Army better”, said Minister Shekerinska in closing.