The Brief, powered by Eni – Meet the Macron of the Balkans

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The Prime Minister of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, was in Brussels today (5 December) and gave the best talk show in town for many months, speaking at the Centre for European Policy Studies.

Unfortunately, as the event opened, it was announced that he will speak off the record, but Zaev granted EURACTIV the right to quote part of his comments. How much? 65% he said jokingly.

So here is 65% of what Zaev said. Asked how he hoped to solve the name dispute with Greece and unlock his country’s NATO accession, as well as possibly start membership negotiations with the EU, Zaev  said it’s clear that tectonic shifts are occurring. He spoke without a translator and his messages were very clear.

He conveyed the message that the long-standing name issue can be solved, with mutual concessions from both sides. He gave the example of his government solving the country’s controversies with Bulgaria, which in nature are not different from those with Greece.

Zaev emphasised getting strength and legitimacy from what the public opinion wants. In the case of the agreement with Bulgaria, he reminded that his political foes from opposition VMRO-DPMNE thought he would lose the local elections, counting on triggering an early general election.

In fact, Zaev’s SDSM social-democrats won, and 22% of the ethnic Albanian population voted for his force, which is an absolute precedent in Macedonian politics.

He hinted that in Greece too, the public opinion was tired of more than two decades of the status quo.

The bottom line is that NATO can take Macedonia on board with a provisional name even before the name dispute is solved, and in a similar way Macedonia could start EU accession negotiations, pending a final solution to the name dispute. Member countries hold veto rights throughout the accession process and Greece would therefore not put its interest at risk.

Macedonia obtained the status of an EU candidate in 2005 and without the name dispute, it could have had successfully concluded the negotiations and possibly even joined the Union by now. As an example, Croatia, another former Yugoslav republic, obtained candidate status in 2004 and joined in 2013.

Zaev was teased by several cheeky questions like whether his country would change the name of its airports. Greece was offended when Skopje airport was named after Alexander the Great, also known as Alexander of Macedonia.

Zeav said this should not be an issue. He actually said more than that but we will still sick to the agreed 65%.

Someone from the audience called his election victory in December 2016 “an electoral revolution”. In the same vein, somebody else said he was “the Macron of the Balkans”. Zaev smiled.


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The Roundup

Britain and the EU failed to strike a Brexit divorce deal during talks in Brussels, because Britain declined a draft on the status of the Irish border after Brexit.

Portuguese Finance Minister Mário Centeno became the new president of the Eurogroup with a promise to bring consensus across the aisle to strengthen the eurozone.

Poland has not yet responded to the Venice Commission regarding its draft opinions on the reform of the judiciary, but the President of the Commission, Gianni Buquicchio assures of continued cooperation.

Hungary is convinced that the EU institutions are on the wrong side of history in the context of the migration crisis and it is facing a ‘delicate mix’ of witch hunt and short trials.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama urged the EU to open accession talks with Western Balkans as soon possible or it risks seeing them wooed by Russia, China or radical Islam.

Representatives of national and regional parliaments search for new ideas to put more flesh on subsidiarity, after the Commission recently launched another task force to look at ways to improve legislative scrutiny.

Spanish socialist politician Manuel Marín, a longtime member of the European Commission seen as the ‘father’ of the EU’s popular Erasmus student exchange scheme, has died at the age of 68.

After the Paradise Papers leak has given new impetus to the plan to draw up a blacklist of non-EU tax havens, the Council listed 17 countries for failing to meet agreed tax good governance standards, while 47 countries committed to address deficiencies in their tax systems and meet the required criteria.

Telecoms ministers from EU countries agreed on a plan to set up fast 5G internet networks by 2025 and snubbed a proposal to reform rules for selling off radio spectrum.

The dismantling of online drug platforms last summer has highlighted the primary role of e-commerce for Europe’s drug trade.

S&D’s MEP Adam Gierek has been replaced as the lead rapporteur on the recast of the energy efficiency directive, after proposing amendments going against his party’s line.

Look out for…

Commissioner Vella at UN Environment Assembly “Towards a Pollution-free Planet”. Look out for our reporting from Kenya.

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