Nationalists Set to Win North Macedonia Vote in Blow to EU Deal

(Bloomberg) -- North Macedonia’s main nationalist party claimed victory in the Balkan nation’s general election, opening the path for a coalition government that risks hindering already troubled talks on joining the European Union.

Most Read from Bloomberg

The VMRO-DPMNE — named after a revolutionary movement that fought for the land’s independence from the late 19th century - won 42% of Wednesday’s vote, according to partial results based on 75% of the ballots counted.

While the VMRO-DPMNE hasn’t officially questioned North Macedonia’s EU path, it has repeatedly rejected a political deal in a dispute with Bulgaria to allow a constitutional change that would ease the process. It may now seek a partnership with the VLEN, an alliance of parties representing ethnic Albanians, who account for over a quarter of North Macedonia’s population. VLEN got 12%.

An EU candidate since 2005, the former Yugoslav state has faced repeated setbacks in its Western integration. It had to change its name - previously “Macedonia” - to resolve a dispute with Greece and join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2020.

Talks on joining the bloc then faced opposition from neighboring Bulgaria in a clash over the two countries’ common history and culture. Now the EU wants North Macedonia to mention Bulgarians in its constitution, among other national groups living in the country, as a requirement to advance negotiations, which the VMRO-DPMNE has criticized.

Its former leader and ex-prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, has lived in exile in Budapest since 2018 after he was sentenced to two years in prison for abuse of power. He was also often accused by his political opponents of ties with Russia.

The outgoing Social Democrats, who were backed by 14% of voters on Wednesday, signed an agreement with Greece to resolve the name dispute and join NATO, and also reached a deal with Bulgaria to unlock the start of EU membership talks. But they also faced criticism over what was perceived to be a failure to advance North Macedonia’s economy and fight corruption.

In a separate vote, the VMRO-DPMNE candidate, Gordana Siljanovksa-Davkova, also won the runoff in a presidential election over incumbent Stevo Pendarovski, the country’s former NATO envoy. Siljanovska-Davkova, who will be the first female president in the country, won 65%, while Pendarovski had 29% for the largely ceremonial position.

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.