Centrist MEPs irked at objections to North Macedonia’s EU accession process

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The European Council’s persistent lack of consensus on launching accession discussions with North Macedonia has come under fire by centrist MEPs of the Renew political grouping. The MEPs lamented that despite Skopje’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law, and its efforts to undertake EU-related reforms, the country has not been allowed to continue on its path towards accession.

Last week, the European Parliament’s annual progress report on North Macedonia, reaffirmed the European Parliament’s strong support for the opening of accession talks and applauded North Macedonia’s democratic transition, as well as the country’s marked improvements in transparency, political dialogue, and reduced political polarization.

Renew Europe MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk, (Movement for Rights and Freedoms, Bulgaria), European Parliament’s rapporteur on North Macedonia also included in his report a comprehensive overview of pending reforms the country should adopt, on issues like electoral reform, media, improved accountability of public institutions and engagement with civil society.

But overall, Ilhan Kyuchyuk says that North Macedonia proved to be a trusted partner for the EU and the delay in opening the accession negotiations is damaging EU’s reputation as a reliable partner and serious geopolitical actor:

“No doubts, North Macedonia demonstrated the best democratic transition record across the Western Balkans region. The recent changes in the international order and especially the European security architecture by Russian aggression in Ukraine are alarming but North Macedonia has shown once again that it is a trusted and reliable partner.

On the reform agenda, the country has delivered sustained results and demonstrated efforts to strengthen the rule of law, judicial independence and political dialogue. Therefore, the European Parliament will continue to call the long overdue accession negotiations to officially start as soon as possible.”

Bulgaria was one of the countries refusing to approve the EU’s membership negotiation framework for North Macedonia because of disputes over history and language, but faces pressure from its Western allies in the EU.

North Macedonia submitted its membership application in 2004, thirteen years after its independence from Yugoslavia. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its Government has voiced the expectation that efforts will be stepped up to break the deadlock, arguing that this would provide an opportunity for allowing Russian influence in the area to shrink. Bulgaria wants North Macedonia to recognize an ethnic Bulgarian minority in its constitution but disputes that a Macedonian minority exists in Bulgaria.

The new German Chancellor Chancellor Olaf Scholz is said to be keen of Western Balkan nations to join the bloc, and is expected to travel to the region in the coming days bearing the message that the region belongs in the European Union.

“Honouring our commitments to them is not just a question of our credibility. Today more than ever, their integration is also in our strategic interests,” he said, pointing to the influence of “external powers” in the region, including Russia.

North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, said his country had shown an “exceptional level of commitment” toward accession. “It’s time for the European Union to lend a hand to the countries of the Western Balkans and to clearly demonstrate that the future of the region is European,” Osmani said. “The region is increasingly tired of waiting, which hurts the credibility of the European Union.”

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