Thursday, July 31, 2008

New Macedonian government stirs tensions with Greece

The new Conservative government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who has pledged to make accession to EU and NATO his top priority, was approved by the parliament in Skopje on Saturday (26 July). But an ongoing row with Greece looks to remain a key obstacle to the country's EU aspirations.

MPs approved the new coalition headed by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, consisting of his centre-right VMRO-DPMNE party - which had won 63 seats in the snap polls on 1 June - and the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) - one of the two main parties representing the country's ethnic Albanians. Together, the parties hold a comfortable 78-vote majority in the 120-member Macedonian parliament.

There was no vote against the new coalition as the main opposition parties collectively boycotted the session. The Social Democrats did so to protest against the arrest of their Vice President Zoran Zaev, which they considered "politically motivated", while the Democratic Party for Albanians (DPA), the other main Albanian party, abstained saying they would not to return to Parliament before their community rights were better addressed.

The new government has pledged to make improved inter-ethnic relations and the fight against corruption and organised crime a top priority, also in view of the country's EU ambitions.

"We will work day and night to become a member of the European Union and NATO," Gruevski, who also headed the previous government, told deputies when presenting his new cabinet.

New tensions with Greece

But the Gruevski camp has created fresh tensions with Greece by turning to the Commission for support in its strive for better protection and promotion of the rights of the Macedonian minority in Greece.

A letter by foreign minister Antonio Milososki to Multilingualism Commissioner Leonard Orban, requesting support for recognition of Macedonian as a minority language in Greece, was followed by a letter from Gruevski to Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

He asked Barroso "to personally engage for Greece's strict obeying of the obligations stemming from international instruments regarding human rights, with special emphasis on free expression of ethnic identity and all rights stemming from that."

However, Barroso replied on Friday (25 July) that the Commission had "no general competence" to deal with such issues, which are the responsibility of the EU member states. He also stressed that Macedonia had to solve its problems with Greece before making progress on the EU path.

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