Sunday, May 19, 2024

WHAT IF THE CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES DON’T PASS?

Therefore, this is again a historic moment for the country. An important and dangerous crossroads, if the country chooses the wrong direction.

Author: Xhelal Neziri

The Working Group for Constitutional Amendments has completed its work. He suggests that ethnic Bulgarians (as well as other ethnicities) be added to the preamble of the Constitution as “part of the people”, an amendment which also means an increase in the number of members of the Committee on Inter-Community Relations from 19 to 43, in order to maintain the proportion according to the Ohrid Agreement. It is proposed that ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, instead of the 7 members they currently have in the commission, count 16 each, in order to maintain their weight in this important forum in the Assembly. The number of other smaller communities will increase from 5 to 11, which will continue to have one representative on the Committee. The replacement of the term “20 percent”, as the main demand of the Albanian political parties, will await a new opportunity.

Now the ball is in the court of those who have to make the decisions on behalf of the citizens – deputies. They, on the other hand, although elected by the citizens, will have to act according to party directives. Therefore, in the Republic of North Macedonia, for many hot topics, instead of the deputies in the Assembly, the leaders of the parties seek the solution in another informal forum called “leaders’ meeting”.

Such a one-on-one meeting between Prime Minister and leader of SDSM, Dimitar Kovacevski, and leader of opposition VMRO-DPMNE, Hristijan Mickovski, is set for Wednesday. According to what has been made public, there is not much hope that there will be a compromise. However, the meeting will have to clarify the dilemmas of what awaits us in the next period.

These are the key days when we will learn if there will be an agreement on the constitutional changes, or if they will be left to wait for a new, more favorable moment. Of course, it cannot be expected that the opposition will unconditionally support the constitutional changes resulting from the French Proposal, even though the European integration of the country depends on them. Mickovski will put his demands on the table, which will be a prerequisite for supporting the changes. These demands can be a broad government coalition, a government of experts, or specific demands in the interest of VMRO-DPMNE, or a combination of all.

VMRO-DPMNE is aware that if it blocks the changes, it will face sanctions from the international community, which would then have political consequences within the party. But on the other hand, Mickowski’s party will have to find a way out of the narrative against constitutional changes, with which to justify possible support for their vote.

SDSM may not accept the demands of the opposition only if it has already convinced 9 VMRO-DPMNE MPs to vote for the constitutional amendments, contrary to the party’s position. The current parliamentary majority counts 64 deputies, while Alternativa and BESA as opposition parties, which count 7 deputies, are also expected to vote for the changes. To change the Constitution, 80 out of 120 members of Parliament are needed. If SDSM has not managed to convince the VMRO-DPMNE MPs individually, then it will have to accept a long list of conditions from Mickovski.

The no deal option is the worst possible scenario. I say this because the country will lose a lot of valuable time in the EU integration process. If parliamentary elections are expected, then Albania will break away from the group and continue negotiations alone, opening the first chapters of the six clusters.

In addition, in 2024 there will be elections in the European Union (EU) and in the USA, and there is no guarantee that this commitment of Brussels and Washington for the integration of the country in the EU will continue to remain high. If we take into account the timing of the creation of new European institutions, which may have other priorities, then it can be said that the country without constitutional changes will miss the train to the EU and will have to wait for a new moment to continue. further the European integration process. This means that North Macedonia would be placed in a group with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo and thus wait another 20 years at the door of the EU. Meanwhile, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania will become members of the Union at a time when this process has the importance of geopolitical urgency due to the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Staying in the same group with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo brings additional risks because these countries have problems that are of a territorial nature, unlike the dispute of North Macedonia, which is of a historical nature.

Therefore, this is again a historic moment for the country. An important and dangerous crossroads, if the country chooses the wrong direction. The French proposal was the result of a major commitment by all EU members and the United States in terms of pressure on Bulgaria to withdraw from the strong lines of complete denial of the Macedonian ethnic identity, which is based on two mainstays: in common language and history. With the inclusion of ethnic Bulgarians in the Constitution, the existence of the Macedonian people has also been indirectly accepted, unlike before, when the thesis “two states, one people” prevailed in Bulgarian politics.

If the French Proposal fails, which would mean the impossibility of passing the constitutional amendments, then it is not known when there will be a new agreement with Bulgaria that would unlock the integration process in the EU. From the experience with Greece, we know that that agreement will be much more unacceptable than this current one. The French proposal was more the result of the international pressure exerted on Sofia than of the negotiating positions of Skopje. This pressure stems from a strong partnership with Brussels and Washington, which could be shaken if the country fails to implement what it has agreed to. In that case, the next veto will not be the result of obstacles from the neighborhood, but a veto from the immature political elite in Skopje, for whom the current power is more important than the future of the country.

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