North Macedonia should have a snap general election, the country’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Saturday, after a bid to start EU membership talks were blocked.
The European Council said on Friday it was not going to begin formal talks with North Macedonia and Albania on joining the bloc.
This was a major blow for Zaev, the progressive leader of Macedonia’s social democrats whose main goal since coming to power in 2017 was gaining EU and NATO membership.
He has led the country through a historical agreement with its southern neighbour, Greece, that led to a change of name from Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of Northern Macedonia as a necessary step to further its EU application process.
Addressing the nation on television, the Prime Minister did not announce a date for the snap election but he said that it would be discussed with all sides of the political spectrum, including the opposition and smaller parties.
“Citizens must decide which path we will take in the future – the correct, progressive European path, the path of reforms, or the path that leads backwards, towards isolation, nationalism, conflicts,” he said.
North Macedonia’s parliament has to approve the snap election, but it most likely won’t be an issue: Zaev had the majority on his side and the opposition is on board, too.
"A huge historic mistake on the part of the EU"
Zaev commented that the decision left him “disappointed and angry” and called it a “huge historic mistake on the part of the EU”.
EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker agreed, calling it a “grave, historic error”, while Donald Tusk urged both countries not to give up.
Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama blamed the momentary stop to EU accession talks to a divided Europe, telling Euronews that his country was “collateral damage of an intra-EU power struggle”.
"It is clear there is a large majority that understands it all and there is a smaller (group of) countries that has a different understanding, so it is a fight within different approaches of the EU," he said.
He also stressed that reforms undertaken by the country were not done solely for the purpose of becoming an EU member.
"We don't do it for Europe, we don't do it because someone likes it in Paris or Berlin, or someone wants more somewhere else. We do it for ourselves and our children," he added.