(AGENPARL) – WASHINGTON (DC), sab 24 ottobre 2020 Transatlantic Take
The Trump presidency began during a delicate period for North Macedonia. The country had recently embarked on a process of social and political transformation triggered by a civic movement that mobilized behind enhanced democratization, the rule of law, and economic development. This process effectively ended the semi-authoritarian rule of the nationalist Nikola Gruevski from 2006 to 2016, the prime minister who had reversed the country’s democratic development and hindered Euro-Atlantic integration.
The United States played an important role in this transformation of North Macedonia from a captured state rife with systemic political corruption to a member of NATO. Following the most turbulent years of 2015 to 2017, the Trump administration remained engaged. With the European Union, it facilitated a dialogue between the major political parties in the country, which to a large extent dissolved the deep-rooted political crisis. U.S. and EU involvement also quickened the resolution of the notorious, decades-long name dispute with Greece. (In 2019 a deal was struck to call the state the Republic of North Macedonia.) And the transatlantic partners were instrumental in brokering the friendship treaty between North Macedonia and Bulgaria. The two processes paved the way for NATO membership in 2020 and the opening of accession negotiations with the EU, hopefully later this year.
One can argue that the relationship between the United States and North Macedonia has always been constructive. Starting from the country’s independence in 1991, Democratic and Republican administrations have been vocal in support of its statehood and provided considerable economic and political support. In North Macedonian domestic politics, there was also a bipartisan commitment: The center-left and the center-right, in power and opposition, stuck to the objectives of joining NATO and nurturing a strategic partnership with the United States. This closeness was also reflected in foreign policy. North Macedonia was frequently in line with the United States on contested issues including the Trump peace plan for Israel and Palestine.
Public perceptions of the Trump administration in the country are mixed, though. According to Gallup, 34 percent of Macedonians says approve of U.S. globally leadership. Within the Western Balkans, this higher than in Serbia (19 percent) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (23 percent), and lower than in Montenegro (37 percent), Albania (67 percent), and Kosovo (82 percent).
Wider than Bilateral
Assessing the Trump administration’s impact on North Macedonia solely through the prism of bilateral relations misses a bigger picture. As much as the United States engaged with the country, the Western Balkans have fallen down its list of priorities—something that predates Trump. This opened a wider space for Russia and China to engage in the region.
The reelection of Trump could mean an altered environment to resolve the Kosovo-Serbia dispute, which has clear political, security, and economic implications for North Macedonia. It is uncertain whether Trump would push this process and aim for a quick—perhaps half-baked—solution or disengage and leave more space for the EU-facilitated dialogue. North Macedonia has a regionally shared concern: A quick but unstainable solution for the Kosovo could generate security challenges in the future.
The most significant impact on North Macedonia will be in the field of transatlantic relations. Should there be a second Trump term, there would be more deterioration and deeper incompatibility between the United States and EU on key issues such as transatlantic security mechanisms and positioning toward China and Russia. North Macedonia is highly dependent on the transatlantic security architecture.
The expected start of EU accession negotiations will further pressure North Macedonia to accommodate demands for regulatory, security, and foreign policy alignment. Some of these, such as the concept of European strategic autonomy, have potential to prove incompatible with North Macedonia’s commitments toward the United States.
A Biden win is not expected to lead to great changes in U.S. policy toward North Macedonia, but the country would benefit from the United States and the EU having a more compatible vision. North Macedonia would enjoy the support of a Biden administration for its internal reforms, for the EU accession process, and for economic development. If a Biden administration improves transatlantic cooperation, this could mean more coordination between the United States and the EU in supporting internal reforms.
Finally, a Biden administration would coordinate more with the EU on tackling the challenges posed by China and Russia. This could translate into support for North Macedonia to build up its resilience in vulnerable areas and prove crucial to its democratization.
This is part of our series on the policy implications of the 2020 U.S. elections for U.S. allies—you’ll find the rest of the series HERE.