Thursday, December 7, 2023

Latest gambit in North Macedonia seeks to break impasse with Bulgaria

Ethnic Albanian party’s offer positive, but reaching a political solution remains elusive

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At the end of July, the largest ethnic Albanian political party in North Macedonia, the Democratic Union for Integration, presented an innovative proposal to try to clear the way for the country’s European Union accession talks to move forward.

The DUI, as it is known locally, suggested that it could remove its ministers from the existing coalition government in order to meet a demand from the nationalist opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity, or VMRO-DPMNE, that would then allow the latter to vote in favor of constitutional changes to recognize the country’s existing Bulgarian minority.

A supporter of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE attends a rally against the French-brokered compromise deal between North Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Under a deal reached last year that was brokered by France, Bulgaria agreed to allow the country to move ahead with its EU accession process, but only after North Macedonia’s constitution is amended to recognize the country’s significant Bulgarian minority.  Currently, Serbs, Albanians, Turks, Bosniaks, and Roma are mentioned, but Bulgarians are not.

Getting the votes in parliament needed to amend the constitution

For the last year, the key problem in this regard has been to find the 2/3 of parliament needed to amend the constitution; something that has been considered mathematically impossible without support from the opposition.  The VMRO-DPMNE party had, until recently, demanded that Bulgaria recognize the language they call ‘Macedonian’ before it would consider recognizing the Bulgarian minority via a constitutional amendment. This set the stage for never-ending delays over tit-for-tat historical grievances.

In this light the DUI’s current offer has substantial potential to break the logjam.

A plenary session on proposed constitutional amendments has been scheduled for August 18.  That initial discussion may well be sufficient to start the ball roiling. Under the current rules, the deadline for completing the procedure to adopt the constitutional amendments will be November 30.

The mainly Muslim ethnic Albanian population is North Macedonia’s largest non-Slavic minority.

Who moves next?

A number of moving pieces need to be coordinated if progress is to be made.

For its part, when the DUI made its offer, it also announced that the resignations of its ministers could come into effect immediately, assuming the main opposition votes for the needed constitutional amendments.

VMRO-DPMNE, on the other hand, is asking for DUI’s immediate departure from the government, with the DUI resignations to be “irrevocable”. The nationalists also want the formation of a new government coalition, including the opposition parties, as well as for a new parliamentary election to be scheduled.

VMRO-DPMNE was generally positive in its public reactions to the DUI offer, but consistently claims that 80 percent of the North Macedonian population opposes the Bulgarian-imposed amendment.

Over the first half of 2023, American and EU officials have continued energetic lobbying in support of the constitutional amendments.

Clearly there is much work ahead.  New elections have not been announced, nor is there any indication the government has decided to do so.

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Co-founder and Executive Director for Global Economics and Southeast Europe at NE Global Media.  Former US diplomat with previous assignments in Eastern Europe, the UN, SE Asia, Greece, across the Balkans, as well as Washington DC.


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