North Macedonia overcomes the hard road to an uncertain future of the EU

“WEAK POINT”

And even as Pendarovski lent his support to the agreed deal over the weekend, he admitted that patience with the EU was wearing thin at home and in the Balkans more broadly.

Protests have escalated in recent weeks in North Macedonia, with the country’s opposition gathering in the thousands to fight any new compromise with Bulgaria and the EU.

“Across the Western Balkan nations, enthusiasm for the euro is dropping very sharply,” Pendarovski said.

“Speaking precisely of North Macedonia, in the last 18 months we have seen a drop of 25 percent.”

But abandoning a European future would leave countries like North Macedonia, with a population of just 1.8 million, particularly vulnerable to geopolitical obstacles in an increasingly polarized world, Pendarovski argued.

If North Macedonia and other Balkan countries remain outside the EU, then the region will be a “weak spot” vulnerable to penetration by “evil powers” including Russia, Pendarovski said.

But the longer they wait to join the bloc, the more anti-European voices are gaining ground and fanning the flames of unrest in places like North Macedonia.

“I am afraid that maybe some populist movements will come to power and some anti-European leaders will take power in Skopje and that will certainly not be good for the pan-European idea,” the president said.

A NEW DEAL

Since declaring independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, North Macedonia has faced a litany of obstacles from its Balkan neighbors over historical grievances.

Despite the obstacles, the country pressed forward in its fight for international acceptance, culminating in the official change of its name in 2018 to resolve a decades-long dispute with Greece that cleared the way for NATO membership.

But the door to the EU remained firmly closed, thanks to a brief delay initiated first by France followed by an outright veto by Bulgaria over a series of disputes over history and language.

Sofia’s unexpected move was a blow to many in North Macedonia.

And even as governments came and went in both Sofia and Skopje, North Macedonia’s path to the EU remained blocked.

The weekend deal has offered a way forward through a series of measures including constitutional changes and amendments to North Macedonia’s educational curriculum on certain historical points.

But even with the start of talks, the ruling government faces a political minefield ahead.

Lacking a two-thirds majority to amend the constitution, the deal is likely to stall in parliament, possibly triggering further political infighting and fueling further outbreaks of unrest.

“While the temptation to push through a bad deal now to spark movement in the already stalled process might be great, the proposal as it stands now is likely to achieve the opposite, more gridlock, more frustration and even destabilization,” he wrote. President of North Macedonia. former Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov and analyst Florian Bieber in an editorial published last week.

In the capital Skopje, protesters have been taking to the streets for weeks, with members of the right-wing and left-wing opposition uniting to block any further engagement.

“We no longer know what to say, how many more agreements will there be?” said protester Marjanco Stoilkovski, 48, outside the parliament in Skopje during a recent demonstration.

“We have changed the name and now they ask for something else,” added Skopje resident Vesna Nikolova. “It’s very humiliating.”

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