• REUTERS

Ethnic Albanian Party in North Macedonia Offers Deal to Clear the Way to Join EU

REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
A supporter of VMRO-DPMNE, North Macedonia’s biggest opposition party, waves a flag while rallying in Skopje, North Macedonia July 10, 2022.

SARAJEVO (Reuters) – The largest party representing North Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian minority offered to pull its ministers from the government to meet a demand from the opposition to clear the way for European Union membership talks.

The Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) said the resignations of its ministers would come into effect only if the main opposition nationalist VMRO-DPMNE votes for constitutional changes to recognize a Bulgarian minority, as demanded by Bulgaria to allow the country to join the EU.

Last year, North Macedonia’s parliament passed a French-brokered deal aimed at settling a dispute with Bulgaria which had vetoed Macedonian-EU talks. Read full story

Bulgaria lifted the veto on condition that North Macedonia amends its constitution to recognize a Bulgarian minority. The opposition protested against the deal, arguing that it should include a requirement that Bulgaria recognize the Macedonian language.

Bulgarians and ethnic Macedonians speak similar languages, and both communities are highly sensitive about laws recognizing them as distinct nationalities.

A two-thirds majority is needed in the North Macedonian parliament to change the constitution. Last month, the VMRO-DPMNE told the government it would support the constitutional changes if DUI left the government, a new government coalition including the opposition parties was formed, and a new election scheduled.

“Conscious of the hopes and goals/dreams of citizens to one day become part of the big European family, …, we, the ministers and government officials from the ranks of the Democratic Union for Integration, resign from the functions we currently carry out,” the DUI said in a letter to Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski published by local media.

“Resignations, Mr. Prime Minister, will automatically take effect the moment the opposition votes on the constitutional amendments,” the letter concluded.

There was no immediate reaction from the government.

The VMRO-DPMNE said in a statement that the DUI needed to leave the government as soon as possible and a new election be organized. It did not address the demand that it first vote to support the constitutional changes.

North Macedonia has been a candidate for EU membership for 17 years but approval for talks was first blocked by Greece and then by Bulgaria. EU membership talks and reforms could take years, EU officials have said.