Euro-skepticism and the date

Ilo Trajkovski

The recently held elections for the European Parliament brought a few surprises. First, the voters went to the polls in a significantly larger number than expected. In addition to the numerous previously stated conclusions on the democratic deficit of the European institutions and the decline in their interest in politics, this time European citizens came out in a higher percentage (50.97 percent) compared to the 2014 elections (42.6 percent). Another surprise was the significant drop in electoral support for both party groups that over the past decade dominated parliament and were most deserving of European policies and, in particular, enlargement policy. The participation of MPs from the group of European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the total number of MPs in parliament fell from 52.54 percent, as they were in the previous composition, to 43.1 percent in the new composition.

The third surprise was the increase in electoral support for Liberal Democrats and the Green parties. The first in the previous composition participated with 9.91 percent, and in the new one by 14 percent, while the share of the green party grew from 6.94 to 9.2 percent. The last surprise was the relatively weaker increase in electoral support for Eurosceptically oriented political parties. Before the election, there was fear of a significant increase in electoral power for these parties. But the participation, for instance, of the group of Europeans of Europe and of freedom grew only by not even three percent (from 4.81 in the previous composition to 7.7 percent in the new one).

These results show that since the increase in the electoral mobilization of European citizenship, Eurosceptics were not the ones to profit the most, as expected, but Liberal Democrats and the Green parties. Both of them, in essence, have a more positive attitude towards the enlargement of the European Union to the Western Balkans than others. Nevertheless, the election results raised the question of their consequences for the policies and the process of enlargement of the European Union towards the countries of the Western Balkans, including North Macedonia.

Such concerns do not arise and cannot arise from the relatively weak increase in support for the right-wing parties that are critical of the EU and, in particular, its enlargement to the Western Balkans. It is a more cumulative result of the total drop in support for parties that have so far pursued European enlargement policy, on the one hand, and the victory or high support for populist and far-right parties in some important EU member states such as Italy, France, Hungary and Poland, on the other hand.

Therefore, the question whether or not the country will receive a date for the start of the accession talks in June or July, has become a question of the future not only of the Republic of North Macedonia, but also of the future of the enlargement of the European Union. If there is no accession talks date, the government will collapse – according to Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. According to the prime minister’s logic, failure to determine a date by the European Council would mean the non-recognition of the main policies of the government that he leads, and above all, its foreign policies concerning its neighbors (Bulgaria and Greece).

It is not the first time that the SDSM government gave more priority to pro-European policies, interests and arguments, and thus put into question its own survival. In our history so far, SDSM’s governments have always had a better rating among European partners and Americans, while they lost the political battle in elections at home. For illustration, let us recall the statement of the former Prime Minister, Professor Vlado Buckovski, in Parliament when he told MPs from the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE that he will Europeanize them, whether they like it or not. Conversely, the external rating of the governments of VMRO-DPMNE has always been worse than the rating at home. SDSM has always been, and is still, more receptive to European and American interests. Such an orientation is based on the assumption that national interests that should protect them as a national government coincide with European and American interests. VMRO-DPMNE, on the other hand, has always been the opposite. Its governments in international affairs were guided by national interests. For instance, in the party’s campaign for presidential elections, its candidate Professor Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova stressed that she would never be “submissive” to external factors.

The SDSM governments have always been Euro-optimists. Conversely, the governments of VMRO-DPMNE were almost always Eurosceptic. For them, as well as for European populist parties, national interests are ahead of European interests. European interests and perspectives are staged and achievable only to the extent that they coincide with national aspirations. Our Eurosceptics in this respect agree with the European Eurosceptics. Europe, both for the others and for others, is Europe of nations. It seems that, according to that logic, these days they are working together to postpone the date for the start of accession talks for North Macedonia in the European Union.

But this policy of both groups of Euro-skeptics is purely partisan, not national. On the home scene, not getting a accession talks date for the SDSM-led government would mean its delegitimization in the eyes of the citizens. This would increase the pressure for early parliamentary elections and everything that goes with it, bearing in mind the concept of the so-called “Przhino Government”. Looking from a national perspective, lobbing of foreign Eurosceptics to postpone or disregard the date for accession talks in June or July is more like starting a fire in one’s own house while lighting a cigarette.

According to up-to-date analysts of European perspectives, the eventual lack of a date will not only mean the end of the government of Zoran Zaev, but would have wider negative consequences on the whole process of EU enlargement. According to Florian Bieber, one of the best connoisseurs of the Western Balkans-European Union, failure to negotiate a date for accession talks with North Macedonia would mean a “would be a disaster for EU enlargement” in general.

Yes. This may collapse the government of Zoran Zaev, but not necessarily the government of SDSM. But this will surely mean a break in the initiated reform processes. Their driving force was precisely the European future of the country. Without such a perspective, the new authorities – either of SDSM or of VMRO-DPMNE affiliation – will be forced to play with other domestic and foreign cards. Not only in our country, but in other countries in the Western Balkans region, EU competitors to direct the development of this region in their directions would get new incentives for their old policies. Domestic promoters of such perspectives are on standby.

Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik