Macedonia’s prime minister-designate Zoran Zaev pledged yesterday (30 May) to lead the country into the European Union and NATO as the parliament began debate on forming the new government.
Under the rule of conservative leader Nikola Gruevski, Macedonia has drifted away from its proclaimed goal to join the two blocs, in particular since in 2008 Greece vetoed its NATO membership due to a long-lasting row over the country’s name.
“Our goal is EU and NATO membership, in the shortest possible time,” Zaev told the parliament where he is expected to obtain the support of majority for the transfer of power, the first in 10 years.
The parliament is likely to vote in Zaev and his government late on Wednesday (31 May), which could be a step toward getting Macedonia out of a deep political crisis that has lasted for almost two years.
The breakthrough took place after the country’s president Gjorge Ivanov handed the mandate to Zaev, having earlier refused to grant the SDSM a mandate, saying national unity would be undermined by the demands of Albanian groups.
As leader of Social Democrats (SDSM), Zaev saw his party and his allied ethnic Albanian parties win 67 of 120 seats in parliamentary elections.
Highlighting a key demand of the minority’s parties in joining the government — to make Albanian an official language – parliamentary speaker Talat Xhaferi opened Tuesday’s session in Albanian.
However, Xhaferi, an ethnic Albanian who also served as defence minister in Gruevski’s government, quickly switched to Macedonian “until a new language law is adopted”.
“We are pledging to enable an adequate implementation of all languages,” Zaev said in his address to lawmakers.
Macedonia is a country of around two million people, a quarter of whom are ethnic Albanians.
The Balkan country plunged into crisis in 2015 after Zaev released tapes that appeared to show official and widespread wiretapping and top-level corruption by Gruevski’s government.
The leader of the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, Gruevski stepped down last year to pave the way for December early elections, agreed by all political parties under EU auspices.
VMRO-DPMNE won two seats more than Zaev’s SDSM in the polls, but Gruevski failed to strike a deal with ethnic Albanian parties, whose support is necessary to form a government.
Zaev reached an agreement with Albanians but conservative President Gjorge Ivanov had refused to grant him a mandate, saying national unity would be undermined by the demands of Albanian groups.
Under strong international pressure following violence that broke out in the parliament last month, Ivanov eventually agreed to task Zaev with forming a new government.