BELGRADE (Reuters) – Leaders of major political parties in North Macedonia, including those in the ruling coalition, agreed to hold a snap parliamentary election on April 12 after the European Union failed to give the country a date to start talks on joining the bloc.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday led a group of leaders who blocked opening talks with Albania and North Macedonia, despite concerns over increasing Chinese and Russian influence in the Balkans.
On Sunday afternoon, North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski called a meeting with party leaders to discuss further steps after Prime Minister Zoran Zaev on Saturday called for a snap vote.
At the meeting, the party leaders agreed to hold elections on April 12, eight months ahead of the end of the current term.
According to the law, Zaev will now have to step down from the post of the prime minister in January, making way for a caretaker government that would include experts and some representatives of the opposition party, as well to prepare for the election.
“I believe that on April 12 the citizens will make a wise choice that will trace the road on which we the politicians should lead the country,” Zaev said.
After Skopje agreed to end a dispute with Greece over the country’s name – changing it to North Macedonia from Macedonia – the former Yugoslav republic had expected to be granted a date to start entry talks with the EU.
“We have a clear state consensus of all political leaders, that despite the decision of the European Council, … the Republic of North Macedonia should start negotiations (with the EU) as soon as possible,” said Pendarovski after the meeting.
As well as North Macedonia and Albania, four other countries – Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia – also aspire to join the EU, but the enlargement process has largely stalled amid increased public concerns in western Europe about immigration and the strains of dealing with Britain’s exit from the bloc.
North Macedonia is expected to become the 30th member of NATO later this year or early in 2020, once its accession has been ratified by all member states of the U.S.-led alliance.
Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Kirsten Donovan