Austria urges North Macedonia to end dispute on constitution

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Austria’s president on Wednesday urged rival political parties in North Macedonia to end a dispute over a proposed amendment to the constitution, as European Union leaders continue to encourage the small Balkan country to clear hurdles toward membership in the bloc.

“It would be necessary to change the constitution and look towards the European future. Don’t lose the sight of the goal,” Alexander Van der Bellen said at a joint news conference with North Macedonia’s president, Stevo Pendarovski. North Macedonia has promised neighboring Bulgaria, an EU member since 2007, to add a reference in its constitution to the existence of an ethnic Bulgarian minority. In exchange, Bulgaria would lift objections to starting EU membership talks for North Macedonia.

The dispute has also hindered the accession process for fellow EU hopeful Albania.

North Macedonia’s center-left government has so far been unable to win support needed from the conservative main opposition party for parliamentary approval of the amendment.

Several senior European politicians have visited Skopje in recent weeks and appealed for bipartisan support for the change, including German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

The constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in the 120-seat parliament, or 80 votes. But the governing coalition led by the center-left Social Democrats is backed by only 64 lawmakers.

President Pendarovski told reporters the ministry of justice will soon form a committee of experts to draw up the final draft of the proposed constitutional amendment.

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