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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Euroscepticism rises in North Macedonia amid EU membership delays

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“Where is the date for the date (to start the negotiations)?” reads graffiti in the centre of the North Macedonia capital Skopje.

It’s a pointed reference to the lack of progress on the country joining the European Union.

The country — which was previously called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia — agreed to change its name in 2018 to settle a long dispute with its southern neighbour Greece, who vetoed EU membership talks starting.

Since changing its name to the Republic of North Macedonia, its accession has been blocked at the EU leader level and then by its eastern neighbour, Bulgaria.

Sofia has disputed the existence of the country’s cultural and historical identity. The Bulgarian side claims North Macedonia’s history and language are not separate or distinct from that of Bulgaria.

The roadblocks to EU membership — the country was given candidate status in 2005 — has sparked Euroscepticism, experts say.

“Unfortunately the EU and NATO sceptics are becoming more vocal in our country,” said Ilija Dzugumanov, a member of the Euro-Atlantic Council.

“We can see that from the last elections in North Macedonia when these frustrations about the membership process were manifested by sceptical parties – the only winners of the last two elections.”

Nikola Dimitrov, the country’s deputy prime minister for European affairs, has urged the EU to honour its words.

Dimitrov is known by many as a politician with a clear pro-European orientation. He led the negotiations with Greece for the signature of the Prespa Agreement.

“If the EU fails to deliver on promises on an agreement that was praised so widely and highly, what is the lesson for Belgrade and Pristina? Or the lesson for the issues that Bosnia and Herzegovina has been facing in particular in these last days and weeks?” Dimitrov told Euronews.

“If we are to solve the big problems in the Balkans, we need the EU to continue to be a ‘force for good’. And in our case, it’s quite questionable – because of this lack of delivery – that the EU is indeed a ‘force for good’.”

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