Manfred Weber and Macedonia

Ljupco Popovski

There are several, very serious reasons for Macedonia to frantically engage in reforms in the next couple of months if it does not want to remain short-handed at the EU Summit in June, when it should be decided whether the membership negotiations will officially begin. One is of a regional character and is related to the other European aspirant, Albania. The political situation in Albania is in complete chaos, last weekend, supporters of the opposition tried to forcibly enter the government building, the plateau in front of it looked like some sort of military zone. On Monday, opposition lawmakers resigned, trying to increase pressure on Prime Minister Edi Rama for extraordinary elections, to be organized by a technical government. In this era, Albania has little time for commitment to the reforms, so the great danger for Macedonia is if European leaders (regardless of the historic Prespa Agreement) concisely see that there are not enough quality changes in the judiciary, the rule of law, the right to freedom of speech, and reforms in the economy, leaving the two countries to wait in tandem. If Albania is not able to handle its political crisis, we could make some kind of reform quantum leap and get out of the tandem. The recipe for it is simple. It has only three words: reforms, reforms, reforms.

The second reason is the results of a poll published Monday by the European Parliament on the possible deployment of troops in it after the May elections. For the first time in 40 years, a centrist coalition composed of a moderate right and left will lose the majority in parliament. According to a survey conducted in all member states, this “grand coalition” will control 45 percent of the seats instead of the current 53 percent. If the results really are, it will be a kind of earthquake in European politics. Pro-European forces, however, will be in the majority if the Liberals and Greens are also counted. The far right and other right-wing Eurosceptic parties will increase the number of representatives in parliament and the new force deployment will certainly have an impact on the decision of European leaders in June. According to the forecast, in the new parliament, the three Eurosceptic groups will have only one-fifth of the MPs, 21.5 percent.

In such a fragmented parliament nothing will be the same as the previous 40 years. While the right-wing European People’s Party (EPP) will remain the strongest faction in the EP with 183 seats, it will not be able to have a decisive voice in the distribution of its functions (now three key positions – President of the European Council, President of the European Parliament and President of the European Commission are held by people coming from his group). The cake will have to be shared with the left of the Socialists and Democrats (S & D) group and quite likely with the ALDE Liberal Group, which will be the third strongest faction. This is where the concerns of the Macedonian authorities lie. The calculations that are now being made by Dutch Prime Minister, Liberal Mark Rutte, may succeed Donald Tusk as President of the European Council. If French President Emmanuel Macron’s party joins ALDE (as it has been already announced), its power will become even greater, as it will not be possible to form a majority in the EP without them. It is known that Mark Rutte is one of the biggest skeptics of the start of Macedonia’s EU negotiations with Macron. Therefore, the only thing we need by June is only reforms, reforms and reforms. And closing of at least a few of the cases arising from wiretapping with an effective court decision, which will be a strong confirmation that European support for dealing with crime, corruption and human rights violations was not in vain. And that we have finally learned something.

The third reason is in the EPP candidate for European Commission President, German Manfred Weber. It may seem illogical, but the candidate of the group that includes Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, and Johannes Hahn, may become one of the key obstacles on the Macedonian road to the EU. As the head of the EU executive, he cannot formally hamper Macedonian progress, but he could refuse to help it. Because we were preoccupied with the Prespa process and because the Macedonian public has little interest in the developments in European politics, the actions of this politician from the Bavarian party CSU (sister party of Merkel’s CDU) remained little known in our country. The most important fact is that he, as the head of the EPP parliamentary group in the European Parliament, has never publicly and firmly stood behind the Prespa Agreement. Although his group publicly and clearly supported it on several occasions.

There are a few explanations for this, although all of them can act prosaically. The first is that Webber is firmly connected with the leader of the Greek opposition, the New Democracy president, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. And he always found an understanding of Mitsotakis’s acute opposition to the Prespa Agreement. Mitsotakis was the first of the EPP group to support Weber as European Commission President. It looks like the Bavarian did not forget that. In the meantime, he tried to justify the opposition of the Macedonian opposition to the Prespa Agreement. During these past few months, Manfred Weber directed a whole bunch of criticisms, even insults to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Politicians want to forget the events from the past. Even recent past from 6 to 7 years ago. Thus, when he was on a two-day visit to Athens ten days ago at a conference as a guest of the Mitsotakis party, he openly called for a change of government in Greece. Weber’s main point was that if he became president of the European Commission, he would do everything to reduce the financial burden for Greece. “Greece needs a new government that will be friendly to economic growth. I will pledge to reduce European projections for Greek growth so that the new government can be more relaxed,” Weber said before the pleased Mitsotakis. He deliberately forgot that when New Democracy was in power in 2009, the deficit was 15.1 percent, which opened the doors to bankruptcy. Or that Tsipras’ government reduced unemployment by 27 percent to 18. Or that the European Commission predicted growth of two percent in 2018 and 2.2 percent in 2019 for Greece and that, according to its estimates, Tsipras’ government made a dramatic step forward. A month and a half earlier, he said that Tsipras is lying to the Greek people, which must pay its government’s cost and called him a populist who threatens European values.

It is clear that Manfred Weber wants to help Kyriakos Mitsotakis in the elections scheduled for this year, but he was the only one of the top officials left behind for the Prespa Agreement, unlike the entire European Union and the line with the leader of the Greek opposition. His statements were always ambivalent. He said that the government is the one that negotiates the agreement and is the one responsible. The role of the opposition is to offer an alternative, and Kyriakos did not oppose the basic idea of ​​finding a compromise. Finally, one month ago he declares that everyone knows that the name issue should be resolved in order to give Macedonia a positive economic and European future. But again in a careful manner, so he doesn’t offend Mitsotakis. At the same time when Merkel was in Athens to put pressure on the Greek parliament to ratify the Prespa Agreement for one last time.

To many, this Manfred Weber’s policy seems unclear, the man not only has never been a prime minister, at least to a provincial government in Germany, but he was never even a minister (which is a precedent in the EU when proposed for the highest executive office) his chances without a majority in the EP, and the silence for the Prespa Agreement and the attacks on Tsipras reduces his chances to be elected. Perhaps his position and views of the Greek and Macedonian opposition most insularly expressed Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in a speech at the EPP summit in November in Helsinki: “What’s happening? The Social Democratic Party of Macedonia wants to join the EU and NATO. The Greek ultimate left wants their neighbor Macedonia to join the EU and NATO, but our sister parties in Macedonia and Greece do not want that. I want to ask a simple question. Is there any discipline in the EPP or not?”

Maybe there’s no discipline in the EPP. Perhaps Manfred Weber is guided by personal affection for Mitsotakis or simply does not see Macedonia in any predictable future in the EU. It may become a problem for our country if he is the one commanding the European Commission. Therefore, Macedonia the applicant has nothing left to do, but concentrate on one thing: reforms, reforms, reforms.

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