Tales of mystery and imagination in Skopje – Part 2


The conservative North Macedonian opposition failed in its November 11 attempt to overthrow Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s government. This only happened because lawmakers in the ruling coalition were able to end a vote of no confidence due to a lack of quorum after the mysterious disappearance of a single opposition-aligned MP, after having reported via social networks that he had had contact with foreign diplomatic representatives. This curious turn of events left a member in Parliament below the number required to organize the vote of no confidence (61 out of 120).

The conservative opposition, led by the VMRO-DPMNE party, had previously indicated that if Zaev lost the no-confidence vote, they would try to form a new government with new parliamentary allies, if they could be found, before heading to early elections.

With EU membership negotiations being indefinitely delayed, the key target of the Zaev government, its Social Democratic Party (SDSM), fell well short of expectations for the October municipal elections. Following these results, Zaev vowed to resign, one of his frequently used tactics.

The developments did not stop there. The ruling SDSM party committee accepted Zaev’s resignation from the party leadership on November 27 and scheduled a vote on a successor for December 12. It is believed that the new party leader will also come before parliament to replace Zaev as the next Prime Minister of North Macedonia assuming the country does not advance towards the elections. Local media report that Finance Minister Dimitar Kovacevski is currently the frontrunner to win the SDSM presidency.

The long farewell

Although there is an internal realignment within the SDSM following the heavy losses in the October municipal elections, it is indeed likely now that the SDSM will remain in place as the main coalition partner in a new government. with a slightly larger majority in the 120 seats of Parliament than it has had so far. Zaev spent an extraordinary amount of energy trying to put together a coalition before stepping down later this month if, indeed, he leaves then. Using the usual prospect of launching EU membership talks “soon”, Zaev formed a provisional coalition with a small Albanian party that could provide the new coalition with up to 64 votes in parliament, assuming the most. The country’s largest Albanian party, The Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) is not breaking ranks over the concessions Zaev is making (eg more ministerial posts) to attract smaller Albanian parties to his coalition.

The Bulgarian question is still not resolved

Since the Bulgarian elections of November 14, when the anti-corruption party “We continue to change” (PP) won the majority, work has been underway on the formation of a new government coalition. Signals from Sofia reveal that a deal is seen as close and that a new right and center-left coalition could be announced the week of December 13.

Even so, this timing makes it unlikely that the “fantasy scenario” that some journalists and officials in the Balkans are advocating is possible, namely an almost magical lightning-fast deal between Sofia and Skopje resolving the long-standing bilateral dispute over the issue. language and identity in time for Bulgaria. to lift its veto this year (during the end of the Slovenian EU Presidency) on the launch of EU membership negotiations with North Macedonia. Nonetheless, the usual rumors of last-minute moves to resolve the bilateral issue this year are circulating, as they do before many European Councils. Bulgaria, meanwhile, denies that this scenario is even possible, and officials in Sofia said this week that their veto over North Macedonia remains firmly in place.

Washington comes calling, bringing few gifts

Not content with letting the North Macedonians solve their own problems at their own pace, the Assistant Under Secretary of the European Office of the US State Department, Gabriel Escobar, also carries the title that his predecessor took over under the Trump administration aka ” special representative for the Western Balkans ”. (no essential difference) visited Skopje on December 6th.

During this familiarization visit, he met the President of North Macedonia, the Prime Minister and other key officials. His public comments appeared to focus heavily on supporting North Macedonia’s integration into the EU, which essentially meant nothing as Washington has no real influence over EU enlargement decisions in Brussels. . Instead, the United States has essentially been a cheerleader for Zaev since the 2018 Prespes Agreement with Greece which they actively helped forge the UN and functioned as an informal overseer.

As a result, high-level visits and recalls to Skopje and Athens are needed from time to time to prevent the Prespes Agreement from losing its appeal, lest anyone in those capitals start speculating that the administration Biden focused on other, more pressing concerns.

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