North Macedonia’s parliament is preparing to vote on the proposed centre-right government

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SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — North Macedonia’s parliament has begun a two-day debate ahead of a vote on the new government proposed by a center-right party that won May’s national elections.

Heading the proposed government is Hristijan Mickoski, a 46-year-old former engineering professor, who has vowed to continue the efforts of his center-left predecessors to steer the small NATO member from the Balkans into the European Union.

But Mickoski’s more nationalistic tone could alienate neighbors Bulgaria and Greece, both EU member states that have the power to block his country’s entry into the 27-nation bloc.

Mickoski is expected to easily win Sunday’s vote after winning the support of 78 lawmakers in the 120-seat House.

His VMRO-DPMNE party leads a coalition that won just over 43% of the vote and 58 seats in the May 8 elections – three short of a government majority. Mickoski signed a coalition agreement with the ethnic Albanian Vredi (or Worth) party and the small left-wing ZNAM, securing a comfortable majority.

Under the agreement, VMRO-DPMNE will receive fifteen ministerial posts, while Vredi and ZNAM will receive six and two respectively.

Mickoski was an energy advisor to a previous VMRO-DPMNE government in 2015-2017.

His top domestic challenges in government include strengthening the rule of law, tackling corruption and poverty and revitalizing a sluggish economy.

But the most important issue will be North Macedonia’s path to the EU, which is being blocked by Bulgaria over its demands that the candidate change its constitution to recognize a Bulgarian minority. The previous center-left government promised to make the change, but VMRO-DPMNE has dismissed the vow as a “capitulation (to) Bulgarian dictates.”

North Macedonia joined NATO in 2019, following a historic deal with Greece that ended a decades-old dispute over cultural heritage and history and saw the small country change its name from Macedonia to North Macedonia. But VMRO-DPMNE has already made clear its distaste for the deal, which could jeopardize Athens’ support for its neighbors joining the EU.

North Macedonia’s new president Gordana Siljanovska Davkova – a VMRO-DPMNE candidate – angered Greek and EU officials by referring to her country as Macedonia as she took the formal oath of office. She later insisted that she had a “human right” to refer to her country as she pleased.

Mickoski recently said he will use the new constitutional name – North Macedonia – during the oath and at all official meetings and events. But he added that he would stick to Macedonia in informal communications.

EU membership negotiations with North Macedonia and fellow candidate Albania began in 2022 and the process is expected to take years.

According to parliamentary rules, the vote on the government must take place at midnight on Sunday.

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