Dacic: Government never discussed delineation (TV Prva/Beta)
Delineation was never discussed in the government and this idea was never a topic within the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue in Brussels, said Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic. Speaking for TV Prva, he said the relations in the international community have changed and that the number of countries which recognize the independence of Kosovo is decreasing. “They don’t have a majority anywhere, they can’t be elected anywhere,” said Dacic wondering why does this anger the Pristina authorities if they find it senseless. Commenting on the upcoming parliament session, he said he has never been supportive of boycotting or leaving the sessions. He recalled that the opposition parties were those who asked for this session. “Words don’t echo stronger in a tent than they do in the Parliament of Serbia,” said Dacic.
Seven conclusions – what did Vucic and Kosovo Serbs agree (Tanjug/RTS)
The Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric has stated that at the meeting with 140 political Serb representatives and most important Serbian institutions in Kosovo and Metohija seven conclusions were adopted about the current situation in Kosovo and Metohija, including the one that there is no Belgrade-Pristina dialogue until the taxes are abolished. He says that the first conclusion is that the Serb List achieved at the Sunday elections a magnificent victory and demonstrated unity of the Serb people and wish to base its activities and survival in connection with the state of Serbia. “A clear message of this election is that this connection and unity cannot be broken regardless of political, economic and other pressures,” Djuric underlined.
He says the second conclusion is that following this victory at elections, as President Vucic put it, there must not be boasting with this. That is why a message was sent from the leadership to the Kosovo Serb representatives that they are expected to work even more on improving the position of our people in Kosovo and Metohija.
The third conclusion is the message that Serb representatives are obliged to fight every day for Serb interests and to be prepared, if need be, to leave their posts in case of new pressures: “That the elected mayors in the north with perform their duties in full capacity only until new pressures follow that would make their performance pointless”.
Djuirc notes that the fourth conclusion is that everybody is unanimous that there are no further talks with the provisional institutions in Pristina within the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue until the withdrawal of taxes and pressures, regardless of various blackmail.
The fifth conclusion is readiness to protect the Serb people in an attempt of violation of its security and survival, since Vucic attended as the supreme commander of armed forces of Serbia.
The sixth conclusion is that the realization of the plan of President Vucic for investing and conducting numerous projects into Serb regions in Kosovo and Metohija – schools, roads, hospitals, economy, etc. will be accelerated.
The seventh conclusion is the one that the Kosovo Serbs initiated themselves, that the Serbian President had fought well for its nation. They voiced gratitude to President Vucic for great efforts in protecting Serb interests in Kosovo and Metohija and Serbia’s assistance to the people in Kosovo and Metohija.
Petkovic: Session on Kosovo and Metohija an opportunity to hear out the truth (RTS)
Assistant to the Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Petar Petkovic has told the morning press review of Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that the session on Kosovo and Metohija is an opportunity to hear out the complete truth on what awaits us. “At the plenary session before the MPs, but also the entire public, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic will speak about Kosovo and Metohija, about where we are today, what were the fears that we faced in the past, what is it that we could have done, but didn’t, and where are we heading when it comes to Kosovo and Metohija,” said Petkovic. “This is an opportunity to present the report on the work of the Serbian government and everything that we have achieved in Kosovo and Metohija over the past several years, it is a report we are proud of and that contains very significant digits as to how many housing units we constructed, how many agricultural households we assisted, that we built roads, hospitals, schools, that we have done everything and set aside enormous funds for the Serb in Kosovo and Metohija to survive, to say and to have a future,” said Petkovic. He says there will be discussion on 149 projects of the Serbian government for which 60 million Euros had been set aside so the Serb people would be revived in Serb regions. “This session is some kind of peak of the internal dialogue what was launched in Serbia, where almost all social and political factors spoke about Kosovo and Metohija, so now is the time to debate this in our parliament,” said Petkovic. He says at issue is a very complex issue and the President will try to cover various aspects when it comes to Kosovo and Metohija. “He is prepared to stay and speak, if need be, even seven days in the Serbian parliament, but it is important to come before the MPs with such an important issue, o view the present situation, to understand the moment we are in, to understand that the ideas presented before the Serbian citizens and in general into the public space that the President advocated when we speak about delineation, that these are ideas that speak about the fact that we need to overcome a frozen conflict,” concluded Petkovic.
Djilas presents declaration of reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians (Beta)
The Party of Freedom and Justice presented a Declaration of Reconciliation between Serbian and Albanian People, on how to solve everyday problems, while leaving the status of Kosovo aside, as it is impossible to resolve at this point owing to diametrically opposed positions. According to the party’s document, a series of protocols should be adopted, providing for cooperation between security and judicial systems, freedom of movement, property issues, economic cooperation, cooperation in the areas of culture, sports, media, education, and medical treatments. The declaration also suggests that this political and historical moment demands a long-term solution
requiring patience, not quick solutions threatening to provoke conflicts in the Balkans. “This is going to be the policy of the party I’m heading when we come to power, this is what we will be
insisting on as a blueprint for further talks,” the Party of Freedom and Justice leader, Dragan Djilas, said at a press conference. Djilas said that “life does not wait for politicians,” arguing that the problems that Serbs in Kosovo faced daily, including the freedom of movement, should be
addressed first. The party’s vice president, Borko Stefanovic, said that the estranged oligarchies in Belgrade and Pristina were unable to secure reconciliation. Stefanovic said that the declaration was offering a way to reconcile the two peoples that do not want to be trapped in the trenches of hatred, and incessant debates as to whose view of Kosovo’s status is correct.
Jeremic: Vucic’s statement that Albanians will gain independence is a fatal blow to Serbia’s position (Beta)
The leader of the People’s Party Vuk Jeremic said that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s statement that the Albanians in Kosovo would eventually get independence had harmed Belgrade’s negotiating position. “Vucic said that the Kosovo Albanians would eventually get full independence and that it is inevitable. It is a fatal blow to Serbia’s negotiating position, because the other side has no motive to make a single concession. I believe Vucic would have never said that if he was able to think rationally,” Jeremic said in an interview with the Free Television.
Jeremic, a former foreign minister of Serbia, said that the talks on Kosovo and Metohija have been dilettantish over the past seven years, as Albanians have been irreversibly given everything that was in their interest. Jeremic said that the bodies of the Serbian state in the north of Kosovo had been disbanded. On the other hand, the only thing that had been arranged for the benefit of the Serbs under the Brussels agreement, the Community of Serb Municipalities, remained a dead letter, he said. He argued that no one could bargain with the sovereignty and territory of the state
and that the talks had to be based on the UNSCR 1244 and the Serbian Constitution. Jeremic said that Kosovo’s UN membership would be not only a historical defeat but also a dangerous
precedent showing that Serbia was prepared to change its borders.
Serbian opposition confirms MPs won’t attend parliament session on Kosovo (FoNet)
The Alliance for Serbia (SzS) confirmed on Monday that its MPs will not take part in a special session of parliament devoted to Kosovo. SzS MPs told reporters that the special session, which will be addressed by President Aleksandar Vucic, will be a “farce, reality show and psycho drama”. The group of MPs said that nothing new would be said at the session whose only goal is to “lure the opposition back to parliament”.
Wigemark: All political actors should stop to condition formation of authorities (RTRS)
Head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Lars-Gunnar Wigemark said on Friday that all political actors in B&H should stop to condition formation of authorities in B&H, adding that disputable issues can be resolved once B&H authorities are formed. Wigemark’s statement comes after SDA has been conditioning formation of a new convocation of B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) for months, while accusing SNSD and political parties from Republika Srpska (RS) of blocking the work of the Parliamentary Assembly of B&H.
SDS could open negotiations on formation of B&H CoM (ATV)
Head of SNSD Caucus in the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) Stasa Kosarac assessed that there is no end to the political insolence of SDA, Bakir Izetbegovic and Denis Zvizdic who, according to Kosarac, are trying to assign the blame for the political crisis and non-functioning of B&H joint institutions to SNSD. At the same time, SDS’ Mirko Sarovic is not excluding the possibility that SDS could open negotiations on formation of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM). Sarovic told media that SDS will become part of the negotiations and attempt to be part of the authorities at the B&H level, not excluding cooperation even with SDA or HDZ B&H. Although the offer for a coalition with SNSD gathered around the interest for RS still stands, Sarovic claims that SDS has nothing against talks with SNSD, but that other options for a coalition are also possible. “If this saga surrounding the failure to form the B&H CoM lasts, perhaps SDS will open talks with some other partners. That is not mission impossible. I will perhaps propose that to SDS at a certain point. I believe that there is already a topic to form a coalition, to be partners at the state level, I am not claiming that this will be as such. I believe that we should not be static.” Meanwhile, President of SNSD Milorad Dodik said that SNSD is considering not to form B&H CoM. He added that the CoM formation is not as important to them as the Federation of B&H officials think it is. Dodik explained that political Sarajevo does not allow Serbs to express their political will. SDA keeps insisting on the activation of the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP). President of SDA Bakir Izetbegovic said that they cannot take any steps back. He said that the first Annual National program (ANP) will be sent to NATO anyway and he hopes for a compromise and consensus regarding this issue. The Office of the High Representatives (OHR) did not want to comment if possible withdrawal of SNSD from the B&H institutions will mean the scheduling of snap elections by High representative Valentin Inzko, since the Election Law of B&H does not regulate this issue. Commenting on B&H’s path to join NATO, Croat member of the Presidency of B&H and DF leader Zeljko Komsic said that the activation of the MAP is the step that precedes full membership in NATO and B&H was granted the MAP at the 2010 summit in Tallinn but its activation initially required from B&H to register military property. He claims that following problems in Northern Macedonia and Albania, NATO told B&H in December of 2018 to forget about registration of military property and to submit the first ANP in order to activate the MAP. He emphasized that the ANP was prepared a year ago and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of B&H could have submitted to NATO Headquarters in Brussels without consulting anyone because “it is a document of technical nature”. He accused HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic of doing a favor to Dodik by instructing the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of B&H not to submit the ANP, as well as by instructing outgoing ministers and deputy ministers from HDZ B&H not to attend sessions of the B&H CoM. He stated that he will not give consent for the appointment of SNSD’ Zoran Tegeltija as the B&H CoM Chairman-designate until Dodik proves that the Law on Defense will not be violated. He claims that Dodik started pushing the proposal to arrange a new Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) for B&H instead of the activation of the MAP. He said that a new IPAP would be a step backwards and the Presidency of B&H would have to make a new decision to end the MAP because it is already in force.
SNSD will not allow for any kind of institution to reach any kind of decisions until B&H CoM is formed (ATV)
Spokesperson for SNSD Radovan Kovacevic said that SNSD will not allow for any kind of institution to reach any kind of decisions until the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) is formed, i.e. until election results are implemented which, according to him, is priority number one. Kovacevic said that commissions will not be formed, the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) and the B&H House of Peoples (HoP) will not start working and a delegation to the Council of Europe will not be elected, adding that there is only one culprit for all of this – SDA. Kovacevic stressed that SNSD and its leader Milorad Dodik are ready to talk.
Dodik is becoming a problem for Vucic (Face TV)
Croat member of the B&H Presidency and DF leader Zeljko Komsic and Vice President of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of B&H (HJPC) Ruzica Jukic, asked to comment on possibility of armed conflicts and dissolution of B&H, warned that certain individuals and structures still believe B&H should cease to exist and support for such idea is increasingly coming from liberals who were strong supporters of B&H in the past. Komsic underlined that such individuals and structures must be confronted and now it has to be done in a political manner by standing up against their plan. He deems that Chairman of the Presidency of B&H Milorad Dodik is becoming a problem for Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic because “Dodik is raising the bar and Vucic is actually following Dodik in certain stances, not the other way around”. He explained that Dodik is setting the pace in nationalistic rhetoric and plans and Vucic is forced to follow in Dodik’s footsteps due to current circumstances and the situation in the region, including a sort of political blackmail to link the status of RS to the status of Kosovo. He stressed that it is necessary to stop further disintegration of B&H through changes of the Law on Elections of B&H which would set permanent foundations for ethnic divisions. He also warned that supporters of the proposal to turn B&H into a confederation of three constituent peoples can be found in both Belgrade and Zagreb but such arrangement will lead to definite division of B&H.
Dodik: I am glad Haradinaj is perceiving RS as state even if he is maliciously personalizing it by calling it ‘Dodik state’ (RTRS)
B&H Presidency Chairman Milorad Dodik stated on Saturday that he is glad that Prime Minister of, what Dodik called, self-proclaimed Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj is perceiving RS as a state even if he is maliciously personalizing it in a way that he is calling it ‘Dodik state’. Asked to comment Haradinaj’s statement that it should be clear to everyone that there will not be a ‘Dodik state’ in Kosovo, Dodik said that the fact that the RS is one of the two constituent parts of B&H and that Kosovo is constituent part of Serbia remains until the final agreement between Belgrade and Pristina is reached. “However, Haradinaj got one thing right by thinking in a way that he is tying the solution to the Kosovo issue to the RS and B&H because it is clear to everyone that in such small area the policy of double standards cannot be either acceptable or sustainable.”
European Elections Results: Plenkovic not satisfied (Hina)
Polling stations across Croatia closed yesterday at 7 pm. At 11.30 pm, the State Electoral Commission announced the results after 93% of precincts have been counted.
HDZ (centre-right, EPP) 23.04% – 4 seats
SDP (centre-left, PES) 18.46% -4 seats
Croatian Soverenists (right-wing) 8.35% – 1 seat
Mislav Kolakusic (independent) 7.73% – 1 seat
Zivi Zid (populists) 5.77% – 1 seat
Amsterdam Coalition (left-liberal) 5.48% – 1 seat
Turnout was 29.57%. Slightly more than 3.8 million Croatian voters in the country and abroad were eligible to vote in elections in which Croatian deputies have been elected to represent Croatia in the European Parliament in the next five years. A total of 396 candidates on 33 slates were vying for the 12 seats in the European Parliament allocated to Croatia. Thirty-one slates are party and coalition slates while two are independent slates. Of the 12 deputies to be elected, 11 will go to Brussels immediately after the elections while the 12th will go after Great Britain leaves the EU. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic congratulated all those who have won seats in the European Parliament at Sunday’s EU election. “Congratulations to all those who will enter the European Parliament with wishes that on behalf of everyone they fight firmly for Croatian state and national interests and for a Europe of equals, not of those who are large or small but for those who are equal,” President Grabar-Kitarovic said. HDZ president Andrej Plenkovic said on Sunday night, after the State Electoral Commission (DIP) results showed that the party won four seats in the European Parliament, that he was not entirely satisfied because he had expected five seats, for which the party was short of about 1,000 votes, and that this was due to a big dispersion of votes and a big number of slates. It’s a relative victory, we will have four members in the European Parliament as of July 1 and I congratulate them, he said in the party’s campaign headquarters. Plenkovic said he was pleased with the higher turnout than in previous EP elections. He said it meant that Croatian voters identified with European topics and saw the EP elections as important for Croatian society. He said it was important that the HDZ ran in the elections independently. We stand by that decision and I believe it was the right one, he added. I believe our MEPs will continue to work on the achievement of our European ambitions. This is a very pro-European government, we lead a pro-European HDZ and I’m confident that we will slowly get to the point when voters will see which political forces are dealing seriously with the difficult problems of Croatia’s transition, which is what the HDZ-led government is doing, Plenkovic said. We will work with dedication, advocating European values in Croatian society as we have done so far, and which is what Croatian deputies will do also in the European Parliament, he added.
Presidents of the WB chambers of commerce urged politicians to solve problems ASAP (CDM)
Presidents of the chambers of commerce from the Western Balkans (WB) gathered during the Chamber Investment Forum, CIF, in Pristina and noted that any waiting to solve problems from the past won’t lead to better future. Therefore, they urged the governments to keep up with the dialogue. “Political relations have been quite complex and it’s very important the economy to continue to develop” said the president of the Montenegrin Chamber of Commerce, Vlastimir Golubovic. According to him, economic cooperation represents a tool for speedy development of the region so that it can be well prepared for the joint goal – EU membership.Kosovo’s Minister of Economic Development, Valdrin Luka, noted that the Innovation and Training Park in Prizren has been a good basis for connecting regional companies. “We want to show that we want cooperation among the WB economies, and this innovation park represents a model for cooperation, because we want to see all the companies from the region in it.” Marko Cadez, Serbia’s President of the Chamber of Commerce, said that this regional start-up hub would gather young people willing to present their innovative ideas and create products for the biggest technology companies in the world. Kosovo’s President of the Chamber of Commerce, Berat Rukici, noted that the meeting in Pristina confirmed commitment of the CIF members to the development of private sector and improvement of regional connections. His Macedonian counterpart, Branko Azeski, announced that every WB company would receive a package of services and products of a common regional chamber and services of common regional institutions in the next 5 years. According to all of them, CIF (in cooperation with the Financial Times) will present the WB as a unique investment destination in London on 18 June, in front of over 50 largest international investors.
The 2019 Enlargement Package to be presented on 29 May (Pobjeda)
The European Commission denied media allegations saying that the Enlargement Package, scheduled for 29 May, might be postponed. An EU official told Pobjeda daily, that nothing has changed in this sense. “We were always telling that the enlargement package might be expected in spring. Presentation of the 2019 Enlargement Package has been scheduled for next week. In brief: nothing has changed,” said the official of the European Commission. The 2019 Enlargement Package is to be presented only three days after the European elections, which is why the document was not adopted and published in April, as usual. Last week, the EC announced the European election results won’t affect the Report on Montenegro.
DUI upset – Pendarovski doesn’t even want to hear out its wishes (Nezavisen vesnik)
By appointing Erold Musliu as the new director of the Intelligence Agency, President Stevo Pendarovski sparked disagreements between him and DUI, who stood behind his candidacy. This staff decision for the head of the security intelligence service under the authority of the President was announced only two days after the leader of DUI, Ali Ahmeti, visited Pendarovski at the Vodno Villa. DUI, a party that did not recognize Gjorge Ivanov as a legitimate president for an entire decade, had all the party infrastructure engaged (at least that is what the highest party officials claimed) in order for Pendarovski to be the fifth president of the country – promoting him as a consensual candidate along with DUI’s partner in the SDSM government and dozens of other parties. The Democratic Union for Integration has asked President Stevo Pendarovski to reconsider his decision on appointing Erold Musliu as new director of the Intelligence Agency. “The decision made by President Pendarovski over the appointment of Intelligence Agency director rattled us and cast a shadow over the security reform laws adopted by Parliament yesterday. We think the decision is based on insufficient reasons and it’s not ill-intentioned. But, DUI’s position is that until 2015 Kumanovo events are fully clarified, no one that has been part of the security services at the time should be put in charge of such sensitive institutions. Therefore, we expect the President to get more information and reflect on his decision,” Deputy PM Osmani said in the capacity of DUI’s spokesperson after addressing an international seminar on Thursday. One of President Pendarovski’s first decisions in office was appointing Erold Musliu as new director of the Intelligence Agency. Musliu had previously worked in the Security and Counter-Intelligence Directorate, as well as the Intelligence Agency. It is unclear whether this rather soft rhetoric will change in the coming period, given that the head of the state has heard tones that do not suggest any additional staff stunts by the president in order to satisfy DUI’s appetites. Pendarovski firmly stood behind Musliu, who according to him is a top professional. Experts in this political situation during the pre-election campaign, especially after the first round of elections that failed to bring the expected results for the ruling candidate, said DUI’s support for Pendarovski is not, and cannot be sincere. According to them, it was exclusively motivated by DUI’s wishes for staff. In this battle for the throne of the Intelligence Agency, supposedly DUI’s first draft pick was Arif Asani, an acting deputy director of the UBK. In political circles, he was speculating that Musliu is close to SDSM vice president Muhamed Zekiri.
Pendarovski: Musliu was the best solution
President Stevo Pendarovski has decided to appoint Erold Musliu as head of the Intelligence Agency after analyses have shown he is a top professional. His appointment has been met with positive reactions by partners, his office commented on DUI’s remarks involving his appointment. “Right after coming into office, President Stevo Pendarovski considered thoroughly several proposals offering possible solutions as to who could be appointed director of the Intelligence Agency. After several comparative analyses of the professional capacities of all candidates, the name of Erold Musliu stood out as a solution who might perform the duty of this highly responsible post,” says Pendarovski’s office. He is a top professional who has been building his career in the country and who has had exemplary cooperation with the services of all our allies, according to the office. “All services from NATO member countries were informed about Musliu’s appointment as head of the Intelligence Agency. His appointment was met with positive reactions from the services of our allied countries.”
Zaev: I have no intention to interfere in the president’s responsibility
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said the appointment of Erold Musliu as new director of the Intelligence Agency was the responsibility of the President. “The President sometimes consults with us on certain issues. It’s his responsibility, and certainly, his right. I believe consultation will continue, on this and other issues. The President will give an answer. I have no intention to interfere in this area, you know, I’m careful,” Zaev noted. “It’s his responsibility, but I do believe that transparency and the right to comment on certain issues by all political parties is welcomed.” Zaev said another meeting with DUI leader Ali Ahmeti over changes in the executive would probably take place next week, as they were both waiting for feedback, and meetings with coalition partners would continue until decisions were made.
Zaev and Haradinaj hold a get together in Skopje (Republika)
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and the Prime Minister of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj shared pictures of their family get together in Skopje. “With Anita we came to visit the Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Ms. Zorica. Friendly talks about good neighborly relations and the shared Euro-Atlantic perspective of both countries” the Kosovan Prime Minister and accused war criminal wrote. Haradinaj is Zaev’s closest regional ally. The ties go back a decade ago, when Zaev famously wrote to an Albanian politician in Macedonia that powerful circles abroad are preparing him and Ramush to be leading politicians in the Balkans. Their cooperation continued despite the 2015 Kumanovo attack, when the perpetrators were reportedly close to Haradinaj, who organized state funerals for the ten killed Albanian terrorists.
Opposition rally ends without incidents, Basha speaks about ‘political solution’ (ADN)
Sixth national opposition protest ended without incidents. For the three hours that it last, demonstrators were calm. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party leader, Lulzim Basha, voiced the necessity of a ‘political solution’, but of course without Edi Rama as Prime Minister.
“We are ready for a dialogue with all political factors in order to make the removal of Prime Minister Edi Rama possible and to organize free and fair elections,” said Basha at the end of the protest. “Time for a final solution is now: the removal of Edi Rama, transitional government and free and fair elections as only road,” said Basha. Next massive national protest of the opposition will be held on 31 May, the same day when the Socialist Party plans to open the electoral campaign. Meanwhile, Prime Minister, Edi Rama wrote his 5th pubic letter to Basha. Rama repeated his appeal for dialogue, adding that the date of local elections won’t be changed as the Constitution doesn’t allow this. Moreover, the Premier congratulated Basha on the peaceful protest, but he emphasized that the time for dialogue is expiring as the campaign for local elections is getting closer. Also, Rama announced that the electoral campaign won’t start on May 31, 2019 as announced before, but it will be started on 1 June 2019. “30 June elections can’t be postponed by anyone and neither can anyone prevent them. Because the Constitution of our Republic does not allow anyone to postpone the elections, and the law punishes severely anyone who even touches a ballot box,” said Rama among other things.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
North Macedonia pushes ‘compelling case’ for EU accession talks (Financial Times, by Michael Peel in Tallinn and Valerie Hopkins, 26 May 2019)
Brussels will lose sway in Balkans and boost rivals if it rejects Skopje, says minister
The EU will lose influence in the western Balkans and risk boosting rivals such as Russia and China if it fails to endorse North Macedonia’s “compelling case” to begin discussions on joining the bloc, the country’s foreign minister has warned. Nikola Dimitrov told the Financial Times it would be “difficult to talk . . . with a straight face” about ever-closer ties between Brussels and his region if EU member states failed to confirm a conditional decision to launch the accession process. Doubts remain over whether the likes of France, Germany and the Netherlands will back North Macedonia’s push for membership at next month’s meeting of EU foreign and Europe ministers. Yet many European diplomats concede privately that the Balkan country has delivered on commitments, including changing its name to end a decades-old dispute with neighbouring Greece. “When there’s a good case [for accession talks], that needs to be recognised and rewarded. If this doesn’t happen, then the leverage of the EU becomes weak,” Mr Dimitrov said in an interview, noting that the western Balkans was now a “theatre of geopolitical competition” involving Beijing and Moscow. “If Europe cannot make a difference in the Balkans, then it is difficult to imagine how it will make a difference elsewhere.” Mr Dimitrov, a former ambassador who quit during the corrupt regime of former premier Nikola Gruevski, has been lobbying in Germany, the Netherlands and other countries ahead of the membership vote. He said he was “fairly confident” that the EU would give North Macedonia the go-ahead “this year” to start talks to join, although he acknowledged that opposition had not disappeared. The EU in June gave conditional approval to the accession bids of North Macedonia and neighbouring Albania. But it has postponed a final decision until after the European Parliament elections that are due to conclude on Sunday because of opposition to enlargement in some capitals. Paris in particular was worried that enlargement talks would play into the hands of anti-immigrant far-right parties ahead of the European polls. Mr Dimitrov said he did not take the concerns lightly, but argued North Macedonia had to “create an atmosphere where it is almost embarrassing not to join the consensus” to support its bid. His country had taken an “obvious U-turn for the better” by deepening reforms in areas such as fighting corruption, creating an “overwhelmingly compelling case” for accession talks, he said. Most strikingly, it agreed to change its name from Macedonia last year to end a longstanding territorial spat with Athens because of the northern Greek region of the same name. “I don’t think that this year it is easy to simply ignore our case,” said Mr Dimitrov, whose father was a refugee from the Greek civil war. “I don’t think we in Europe have the luxury of not consolidating success stories, because we don’t have too many.” He warned that rejection by the EU would damage the credibility of the government in Skopje and boost the “shallow nationalists” opposed to it. It would be “discouraging also for those who attempt to resolve other important bilateral disputes” in a region plagued with disagreements since the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. Skopje faces a further complication because of debate within the EU over whether to keep North Macedonia and Albania coupled on the same membership track. Tirana is widely seen by diplomats as less ready for accession talks because of concerns over the rule of law, corruption and organised crime. Mr Dimitrov said he would like to help Albania, while acknowledging that each country would be judged on its own merits. “European voters are sceptical because they’re losing confidence that accession can actually change countries,” he said. “I think we have to be strict in assessing countries, with no politicisation.”
The failure of North Macedonia’s EU membership bid would risk alienating reformist forces in the western Balkan region while encouraging autocrats, said Florian Bieber, director of the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz in Austria. “It sends a message in the region that it’s not worth it to take bold political decisions towards solving disputes,” said Simonida Kacarska, director of the Skopje-based European Policy Institute.