SKOPJE (Reuters) – North Macedonia’s parliament dissolved itself on Sunday and set April 12 for an early election, eight months ahead of the end of the current term, in what is seen as a major test for the pro-EU policies of former Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s Social Democrats.
The move, endorsed by 108 deputies in the 120-seat parliament, follows Zaev’s resignation last month that came after the European Union failed to give his country a date to start talks on joining the bloc.
Zaev’s cabinet was replaced by an interim government led by Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski which was tasked to ensure conditions for a free and fair vote.
“I have signed the decision (to set the date) for early elections on April 12,” Talat Xhaferi, the parliamentary speaker, told deputies.
French President Emmanuel Macron in October refused to let North Macedonia start EU entry talks, despite concerns over increased Chinese and Russian meddling in the Balkans.
Skopje had expected to be granted a date to start accession talks after settling a dispute with neighboring Greece by changing the country’s name to North Macedonia from Macedonia. Macron also led a group of EU leaders who ruled out opening talks with Albania.
Serbia and Montenegro also aspire to join the European Union but the enlargement process has also largely stalled amid concerns in the West about immigration and the strains of Brexit.
Bosnia and Kosovo, the other two EU hopefuls from the Balkans, are lagging far behind.
Earlier this month, EU’s enlargement commissioner, Oliver Varhelyi, proposed giving EU members the power to delay or reverse the process of admitting new nations or to force them to restart entry talks in some policy areas.
North Macedonia is expected to become the 30th member of NATO early this year, once its accession has been ratified by all the member states of the U.S.-led alliance.
(Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Nick Macfie)