The Brief – How (not) to solve a problem

The Brief – How (not) to solve a problem |

The new prime minister of North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovachevski, is making his first visit to Brussels on 3 and 4 February. In view of Skopje’s stalled EU accession bid, this could mean a groundbreaking visit, but it probably won’t be. What can we realistically expect from it?

Kovachevski, the new leader of the ruling Social Democrat party SDSM, took over from Zoran Zaev, who resigned as prime minister and party leader in December. Kovachevski, a businessman by profession, who was not a high-profile politician before inheriting power, allied with a small ethnic Albanian party to create a coalition with 64 seats in the 120-seat parliament.

Kovachevski has an urgent problem to solve, namely the Bulgarian veto, which prevents his country (and indirectly Albania) from starting EU accession negotiation.

Bulgaria has a new government, and new Prime Minister Kiril Petkov is also a businessman by profession. The two met twice as soon as Kovachevski was sworn in, with Petkov visiting Skopje on 18 January and Kovachevski returning the visit on 25 January. Both branded their visits as successful.

But soon after, the President of North Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski did something that defies explanation.

On 28 January, Pendarovski received representatives of an organisation called “OMO-Ilinden”. For Skopje, this organisation aims to protect the rights of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria.

But in Bulgaria, this is an organisation regarded as illegal on the grounds of promoting separatism. At the same time, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Bulgaria has violated the rights of the Macedonian minority, which Sofia decided to ignore as it does recognise such a minority.

The Bulgarian President Rumen Radev reacted angrily to his colleague’s meeting.

“The actions and behaviour of the President of the Republic of North Macedonia do not contribute to the country’s progress on the much-desired path of the RNM to the European Union,” Radev told reporters on 1 February.

Tellingly, he twice used the extended version of the name of the neighbouring country, against the spirit of a recent bilateral agreement.

Macedonia can mean different things: a salad, a country, and a region. Geographically, Macedonia is a wide region comprising territories of Greece (Aegean Macedonia), Bulgaria (Pirin Macedonia), and the Republic of North Macedonia (Vardar Macedonia).

For the country, Bulgaria agreed on 18 January to use the short version of the name, ‘North Macedonia’, instead of ‘Republic of North Macedonia’, in exchange for a verbal note to the UN by Skopje, stating that the name of the country affects only the country and not the geographical area, which includes large parts of Bulgaria.

Thus, Radev made a step back from the 18 January agreement.

Pendarovski, obviously not the one to cede any ground, retorted that he would meet with OMO Ilinden again and that such meetings were in the spirit of the 2017 Neighbourhood agreement between Sofia and Skopje, seen as a precursor of the Prespa agreement Zaev later signed with Greece’s Alexis Tsipras.

One could argue that Pendarovski’s stubborn approach essentially destroyed the progress achieved by the two prime ministers. It also strengthened the position of hardliners in Bulgaria, who do not believe in a swift solution to lift the veto.

Compared to Petkov, Radev can be seen as a hardliner. Skopje has a similar situation, with a moderate prime minister and a more hardline president.

The gist of the matter is: With a hardliner president in Skopje, a solution to the Bulgarian veto cannot be expected anytime soon. What Kovachevski needs to do is to explain his predicament to his EU mentors and then European Council President Charles Michel needs to have a serious talk with Pendarovski.

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The Roundup

The European Commission’s new Standardisation Strategy outlines a renewed commitment to engage in the definition of technological standards for emerging technologies to counter growing international competition.

Germany’s expert panel on vaccine use (STIKO) on Thursday (3 February) recommended Novavax’s protein-based COVID-19 vaccine for basic immunisation for people over 18. It said a booster shot should be given with an mRNA vaccine, and particularly vulnerable people should also receive a second booster with an mRNA vaccine.

With no national strategic plan for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) likely to be adopted before summer, September is the most realistic date for adopting the first plans, according to a European Commission official.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictive measures that worsened the mental well-being of European citizens, the EU has no comprehensive plan to tackle this pressing issue. A group of MEPs are calling for change as mental health is often overshadowed by other diseases.

Due to a favourable EU regulatory framework, institutional landlords, such as private equity firms and pension funds, are increasingly buying houses in European cities, sparking fears of rent increases and unfair access to housing, experts warn.

The Northern Ireland government’s decision to unilaterally suspend a key part of the Northern Ireland protocol brought a swift backlash from the European Commission on Thursday (3 February), which accused it of breaking international law.

North Africa’s last remaining democracy following 2010’s Arab Spring, Tunisia, is facing an existential political and constitutional crisis, six months after the country’s president suspended parliament and announced he would govern by decree.

Don’t miss…

  • Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel holds a meeting, via videoconference, with Emine Bozkurt, Chair of the High Level Group on Gender Equality in Sport.
  • Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders in Lille, France, participates in the Informal Justice Council.
  • Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans in Bratislava, Slovakia, holds a round-table discussion with social and economic partners; participates in the public event on „FitFor55“ Climate and Us: Youth for green Europe.

Views are the author’s.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]


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