By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
On a visit to Brussels, Macedonia’s new Prime Minister Zoran Zaev promised to revitalise his country’s stalled Euro-Atlantic integration process and expressed hope for an invitation to join NATO.
Macedonia’s new government will work hard to convince the EU to revive accession talks by this autumn, and to address Greece’s objections to the country’s NATO accession, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told top EU and NATO officials in Brussels on Monday.
“Our goal is to secure sufficient progress in the key reform areas by autumn” to convince the European Commission to restore its recommendation for the start of EU accession talks with Macedonia, Zaev told media after meetings with European Council President Donald Tusk, EU diplomacy chief Federica Mogherini and EU commissioner Johannes Hahn.
Macedonia got a recommendation to start EU accession talks in 2005 and was almost invited to join NATO back in 2008. However due to its unresolved name dispute with neighbouring Greece, progress has been stalled since then.
Over the past two years, since the country became mired in a deep political crisis, the EU additionally conditioned the recommendation with demands for the holding of democratic elections and the fulfillment of urgent reform priorities drafted in the so-called Priebe report.
During his trip to Brussels, Zaev, who was accompanied by Macedonia’s Defense Minister Radmila Shekerinska and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, also met NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
After meeting Stoltenberg, Zaev said that there were several options for making progress on NATO integration.
“We hope that we can become a NATO member even under the provisional UN reference [the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM, by which name Macedonia is known in some international institutions due to Greek objections],” Zaev said.
Another alternative, Zaev said, was that Macedonia would receive an invitation to join NATO very soon, conditioned with an obligation to settle the long-standing name issue with Greece during the time needed for all 29 NATO members to ratify the decision.
Some observers believe Macedonia’s new government could use increased US and EU interest in the Western Balkans due to Russia’s growing impact in the region to get an invitation to join NATO sooner rather than later.
Speaking for the EU, commissioner Hahn said that he was glad to see Macedonia’s long-running political crisis finally overcome with the December 11 elections and with the subsequent formation of a new government.
He stressed the importance of rapid reforms, particularly in the judiciary and security institutions to allow the rule of law, as well as a quick solution to the name dispute with Greece.
Hahn promised help, announcing that he would send a group of experts led by Reinhard Priebe to Macedonia again in July to assess reform priorities and assist the government. He also promised help with the name dispute.
“I can assure you that we will do everything so that this [name] issue is addressed in a way that we indeed find a solution enabling us to start negotiations, providing that Skopje is making the necessary progress,” Hahn said.