Burned by Bulgarian veto, North Macedonia “will act with more caution” in discourse on European integration, says Minister of Justice – EURACTIV.fr

Partly attributing his party’s crushing defeat in the recent municipal elections to the stalling of EU membership negotiations, North Macedonian Justice Minister Bojan Marichikj told EURACTIV that the Skopje government would be more cautious in l ‘to come up.

The standoff between Bulgaria and North Macedonia began in the fall of 2020 after Sofia refused to allow Skopje to start formal EU membership negotiations, citing ongoing arguments over language and l common history.

Since then, in the absence of a stable government in Sofia, the process of joining the bloc of North Macedonia and Albania, whose progress has so far been linked to that of Skopje, has stopped.

Meanwhile, the ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and leader Zoran Zaev suffered a significant defeat in the municipal elections, with the main center-right VMRO-DPMN opposition center gaining ground.

Zaev has since promised to step down.

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Even though a stable government finally seems within reach in Bulgaria, its first steps are unlikely to focus on the veto, rather on the current COVID crisis and corruption.

Bulgarian Ambassador to the EU Rumen Aleksandrov confirmed on Thursday (November 26) that Sofia will not yet lift her veto and, given the circumstances, Albania should be dissociated from North Macedonia and assessed from independently on the basis of its own progress.

According to the Minister of Justice of North Macedonia, Bojan Marichikj, “the disappointment of the citizens at the situation of European integration and at not having started the negotiations on time” was one of the contributing factors. at the loss of his party.

“We have made a lot of effort as a government, and as a society to get back on the European path” since this executive took office in 2017, he said, “and we have done a lot in terms of reforms “.

“And I think that all this was not enough for the European Union to open negotiations,” said the minister.

“We very much appreciate the support we receive from all EU Member States. However, we would appreciate even more than what we would expect from the European Union for the start of negotiations, ”he added.

A recent poll by the Skopje Political Research Institute (IPIS) from November 19-21 found that the VMRO-DPMNE opposition now had the largest support with 22.5%. SDSM came in second with 17.5%.

He promised his party’s goal would be to retain a majority in parliament, the COVID crisis and its economic implications, the energy crisis and the process of European integration.

When asked if it was a mistake to put all the eggs in the EU’s metaphorical basket, Marichikj said: “I don’t think it’s a mistake to trust the European Union and ‘really trying to put our society back on the European path.

“But maybe we should take a look and maybe act more carefully in the coming period, so as not to be in the same position,” he added.

Marichikj said his government still expects the EU to measure up, which would affect the entire region.

Starting negotiations with Skopje, he said, “would enhance this approach of supporting the European discourse, European policies and the European way of solving problems is the way forward for the other countries of the Western Balkans”.

Pressed to know if his government would now give less weight to the EU narrative, he said: “It will depend on the dynamics on the European side”.

Pledging to continue with reforms nonetheless, Marichikj said: “It’s not one or the other, we will do both.”

“But we expect that, in the interest of the country’s point of view and in the interest of the driving force behind the reforms, negotiations will begin.”

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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