The Austrian Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, is taking part in the electoral campaign of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

The country goes to the polls on December 11 and Kurtz is returning a favour to the VMRO-DPMNE for its help in closing the Balkan migration route.

Foreign minister or a political pundit

Kurtz was seen on Sunday taking part in the ruling party’s electoral rally, reassuring the crowds that the country is heading towards EU membership while thanking the country for its support to Austria in 2015-2016.

“In 2015, 90,000 migrants and refugees poured into Austria, and over 1 million transited through our country. Without the help of your Government, we would not have been able to close the Balkan route. I am very grateful for your support in a difficult moment for us,” said the Austrian foreign minister.

Kurtz claims he attended the meeting as a member of the European People’s Party. However, on Monday he changed “hats” and conducted a series of official meetings in his capacity as the Foreign Minister of Austria.

Undermining EU conditionality

His statement on membership directly contradicts the spirit of the European Commission progress report on the country, which talked of “state capture” of democratic institutions, violations of freedom of speech and rule of law.

The European Policy Institute in Skopje, a think-tank, condemned the participation of Sebastian Kurz in a party meeting “as an involvement of a government official from Austria in the election process,” which undermines “the already weak” influence of EU conditionality.

Freedom House views FYROM as a “partially free” regime with deteriorating standards of political freedom. Its criticism focuses precisely on the period Vienna received the support and “solidarity” of Skopje.

A year ago the opposition presented evidence suggesting that the former PrimeMinister and VMRO DPMNE party leader Nikola Gruevski was the mastermind behind the illegal surveillance of over 20,000 people, including his own ministers. There were also allegations by the country’s Special Prosecutor that 35,000 identity cards were issued as part of an electoral fraud scheme in 2014 by the VMRO government.

An agreement brokered by EU’s Enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn, in June 2015 envisaged a series of measures to ensure an electoral level-playing field. As a result of EU mediation, political parties in FYROM reached the so-called Przino agreement in the summer of 2015, which set a road map for political transition. However, the ruling party has been obstructing the process by presenting various obstacles to opposition party campaigning, including access to media.