Sassoli in Skopje: ‘Don’t lose hope’

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (L) welcomes President of the European Parliament David Sassoli (R) in Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia, 4 November 2019. [Georgi Licovski/EPA/EFE]

Visiting European Parliament President David Sassoli urged North Macedonia on Monday (4 October) not to lose hope after the recent failure of the European Council to reach a decision for opening EU accession talks.

Unlike Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Council President Donald Tusk, who called the summit outcome “a grave mistake”, Sassoli described the French veto on opening accession talks with Skopje as “a small obstacle”.

At the time, Sassoli expressed the view that this setback could be overcome in the next months and repeated this message in Skopje. The visit to North Macedonia was Sassoli’s first foreign trip since he became Parliament president in July.

On 18 October, EU leaders held a heated six-and-a-half-hour debate on whether to open accession talks with two Western Balkans hopefuls, North Macedonia and Albania. Mostly due to French and Dutch opposition, the issue was postponed for another EU summit, under a new Commission and a new Council president.

All eyes on France after inconclusive enlargement summit debate

After a long night of inconclusive discussions, EU heads of state are set to return to the EU enlargement issue today (18 October). All eyes are on France, as Emmanuel Macron’s position has so far been the major stumbling block for opening accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

The future is in our and in your hands, let us not lose hope because the European Union needs to work together with North Macedonia to do its utmost to be a member and to participate in the building of a new Europe, Sassoli said in Skopje, according to PlusInfo.

‘Small blockade’

“We have a common destiny and a small blockade is not enough to stop our attention towards you, the goal of which is that North Macedonia becomes a part of the European Union. It is a disappointment, but we should have great confidence and hope,” Sassoli was quoted as saying in his address to the youth who attended the opening of the European House – the representation of the EU in Skopje.

Sassoli also met with the Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, and other government officials.

Zaev was reportedly so upset by the failure of EU leaders to agree on opening accession talks, even though North Macedonia had reached a historic name change deal with Greece last year, that he envisaged resigning.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on the sidelines of the EU summit that he had had a very long telephone conversation with Zaev and advised him not to step down.

Zaev eventually decided to call early elections on 12 April 2020. He will resign on 3 January and a technical government will be appointed.

“We share your disappointment. However, I strongly encourage you not to lose hope. This is not the end of the road. This is just a hurdle that we will soon overcome. North Macedonia is a shining example of political maturity in the Western Balkans, which will eventually be acknowledged,” Sassoli told the parliament in Skopje on Tuesday.

Skopje on fire as MEPs slam EU leaders' failure to open accession talks

Postponing the start of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania was a “serious mistake” and “grave error”, European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told MEPs on Tuesday, as negative effects already started showing in the Western Balkans.

North Macedonia is expected to become a member of NATO, possibly at the Alliance’s December summit in London, if the ratification process in the member countries is completed by then.

Pundits, however, fear that the country’s pro-Western course could be changed if the nationalist opposition VMRO-DPMNE of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski returns to power.

VMRO-DPMNE took a hardline stance on the name dispute with neighbouring Greece and attempted to block the deal until the very last moment.

This force is leading the latest polls, conducted before the French veto, with a 6% edge over Zaev’s ruling SDSM party, as 42.6% of respondents said they would vote for VMRO-DPMNE, while 36.6% were in favour of SDSM.

Sassoli will also visit Albania in early December.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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