North Macedonia to hold snap polls in April


Skopje (Republic of North Macedonia) (AFP)

North Macedonia's political leaders agreed on Sunday to hold early elections in April, after the EU blocked the start of membership talks.

"We have reached a consensus for the elections to be held on April 12, 2020," Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said after the meeting of main political leaders with President Stevo Pendarovski.

European Union leaders on Friday failed to agree on opening Skopje's accession negotiations, mostly because of opposition from France.

The issue is now on hold until next spring.

Zaev on Saturday proposed a snap election as the EU decision, which he called a "historic mistake", scrambled what had been the key policy goal of his cabinet.

Zaev will resign on January 3 and a technical government will be appointed, political leaders decided.

Under the law, the prime minister must resign 100 days ahead of the polls, and a technical government that will include both the ruling coalition and the opposition is to be voted in by the parliament.

However, "the unanimous view of all parties is that Euro-Atlantic integration is our goal... and these aspirations of the country will remain," Zaev told reporters after the meeting.

Friday's move by the EU triggered a wave of anger and disappointment, not just in North Macedonia and Albania -- whose membership bid was also put on hold -- but among EU officials and leaders who had lobbied hard to open the talks.

Zaev and his Social Democrats came to power in 2017, ousting the right-wing party of former strongman Nikola Gruevski, who had dominated the country for a decade.

Since then, his government has poured all of its political capital into putting North Macedonia on a path to NATO and EU membership.