North Macedonia Appoints Government That May Strain Ties with EU

(Bloomberg) -- North Macedonia’s parliament backed a nationalist-led government that may worsen relations with the European Union and further hinder the Balkan country’s stalled talks to join the bloc.

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Lawmakers voted 77-22 in the 120-member assembly late Sunday to approve the cabinet of Prime Minister Hristijan Mickoski. He’s the leader of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party and he plans to rule in a coalition with two other smaller groups.

Mickoski’s party is returning to power after a seven-year pause, following the failure of the Social Democrat-led government to achieve a breakthrough in EU negotiations and to advance efforts to enforce the rule of law. VMRO-DPMNE has nurtured close ties with Viktor Orban, Hungary’s nationalist prime minister.

An EU candidate for nearly two decades, North Macedonia has become entangled in quarrels with neighboring nations. The new government will likely have a hard time advancing its EU integration, with VMRO-DPMNE — named after a revolutionary movement that fought for independence more than a century ago — signaling it may look to revise previous political deals.

Mickoski has said he’ll use the name “Macedonia” when referring to his country as prime minister, which has already sparked criticism from authorities in neighboring Greece.

In order to join NATO and start EU negotiations, the Balkan country changed its name — previously Macedonia — to resolve a conflict with Greece, whose northern region beares the same name.

A separate dispute with Bulgaria over the two countries’ common history and culture is now hindering EU talks, with the bloc requiring Skopje to include Bulgarians among other national groups mentioned in its constitution to protect their rights. While never officially opposing North Macedonia’s EU path, VMRO-DPMNE has repeatedly rejected to back the change.

“As long as I’m prime minister, this won’t pass and there won’t be constitutional changes,” Mickoski told lawmakers in the assembly, calling the EU requirement “a Bulgarian dictate.”

--With assistance from Mark Sweetman.

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