North Macedonia's temporary Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski | Robert Atanasovski/AFP via Getty Images

North Macedonia’s PM: EU credibility at stake over membership talks

Bloc’s snub last year fueled nationalism, says government chief

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LONDON — The EU risks losing even more credibility if it does not invite North Macedonia to begin membership talks, said the prime minister of the Balkan country on Monday.

Oliver Spasovski, who leads a caretaker government preparing for a general election in April, said the EU’s failure to give the green light to North Macedonia and Albania last October created uncertainty across the Western Balkans.

French President Emmanuel Macron was the driving force behind this stance, arguing that the EU’s accession process was deeply flawed. The European Commission, along with other EU leaders, declared that both North Macedonia and Albania carried out democratic reforms necessary to begin talks — but a decision to open negotiations requires unanimity among EU members.

Since then, the Commission has put forward a revamped accession process taking many of Macron’s objections into account. The plan won praise from the French leader earlier this month, who gave the clearest signal so far that he was ready to drop objections to the two countries opening membership talks.

EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are pushing for a thumbs up for the two countries at a summit next month. It is not yet clear, however, whether everyone is on board with this target.

“I really believe that it would only be fair for the decision to open talks for accession with North Macedonia [to be made],” Spasovski told POLITICO through a government interpreter at an investment conference in London. “It would be best for this decision to be adopted in March. The credibility of the EU is also in play when it comes to passing the decision for opening the talks.”

“The October decision has definitely fueled nationalism in North Macedonia,” he added. “It has motivated the political structures that are against our membership of the EU and NATO. It creates uncertainty across the entire region, and it has already diminished the credibility of the EU.”

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North Macedonia changed its name from Macedonia last year as part of a deal to settle a decades-old dispute with Greece, ending a block by Athens on the country’s path to both NATO and the EU.

The deal paved the way for the country to join NATO in the coming weeks, but its EU prospects remain uncertain.

Some politicians in North Macedonia’s upcoming election have cited the EU’s refusal to open membership talks as a reason to rescind their pact with Greece.

“North Macedonia expects that these talks will open now,” said Spasovski. “We did everything possible to provide positive arguments to all member countries so that the decision is made in March.”

Authors:
Matei Rosca 

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