SKOPJE (Reuters) – Zoran Zaev, the pro-Western leader who changed the name of North Macedonia last year to secure its membership in NATO and the European Union, returned to power late on Sunday, seven months after resigning over the slow pace of EU membership talks.
Zaev, who won a narrow election victory over nationalist rivals in July, was approved as prime minister with 62 votes in the 120-seat parliament.
The country joined NATO in March after adding the word “North” to its name, under an agreement with Greece, which has a province called Macedonia and had blocked its neighbour’s membership in Western organisations for decades.
“Having joined NATO, we will show that we can join the EU. It is a national, decades-long strategic interest,” Zaev told parliament, pledging to close the negotiating chapters in six years.
After narrowly defeating the nationalists in the July 15 vote, Zaev’s Social Democrat bloc gained the support of parties representing Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian minority to form new a governing coalition.
He said his coalition had also prepared a new set of measures to shield the people and economy from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The country of 2 million people has reported 14,330 cases of infection and 600 deaths.
Parliament dissolved in February when Zaev resigned after the EU declined to set a date for membership negotiations. A month later the EU announced talks could begin. It has set no date, but diplomats said it would likely be later this year.
(Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Maja Zuvela in Sarajevo; Editing by Peter Graff)