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Macedonia Crisis Deal in Mortal Danger, EU Warns

EU mediator says crisis deal will be dead - and Macedonia may find itself as isolated as Belarus - if leaders fail to agree on the key reforms by the weekend.
peter Vanhoutte | photo by: MIA

EU mediator Peter Vanhoutte warned on Wednesday that the EU-brokered crisis agreement will be dead if the Macedonian government and opposition fail to agree on key reforms by the end of this weekend.

There might then be no early elections in April because there will be no time for a new electoral commission and to clear up the disputed electoral roll – which critics say has many fictive voters – Vanhoutte said.

He added that the failure of the deal might reflect badly on Macedonia and did not exclude the possibility that the US and the EU might impose sanctions, freezing politician’s foreign bank accounts as well as blacklisting politicians.

“Macedonia may become isolated like Belarus,” he noted, adding that the country has to choose between remaining on the Euro-Atlantic course or isolation.

It is the first time that the EU mediator has spoken so openly about the gridlock at the inter-party negotiations on a package of reforms.

The EU facilitator said he was especially worried that the courts were preventing the functioning of the newly appointed Special Prosecution, tasked with probing claims of mass surveillance by the government.

He said that the parties had also wasted most time arguing over a law that would prohibit the publication of wiretaps, which government critics see as an attempt to install censorship.

“Freedom of expression is non-negotiable. Media have the right to publish everything that is in the public interest,” Vanhoutte said.

The parties also cannot agree over the appointment of ministers from the ranks of the opposition “because obviously someone wants to limit their jurisdictions”, Vanhoutte said.

The deadline for appointing new Interior and Labour ministers and several deputy ministers expired Tuesday.

“The implementation of the crisis deal stumbled, as expected, on the details,” said Bashkim Bakiu, from the Institute for Policy Creation and Good Governance think tank. “The international community will use all of its instruments, including possibly scrapping [Macedonia’s] status as an EU candidate country” in the European Commission Progress Report due out this month, he added.

Pavle Trajanov, an MP and head of the small opposition Democratic Alliance party, said the situation could get “even more complicated if there is no breakthrough in the forthcoming two or three days” and if “speculation that the ruling parties have a secret agreement to undermine and block the [negotiating] process prove true”.

The talks on implementing urgent reforms are part of an EU-brokered political deal reached this summer aimed at ending the political crisis in Macedonia over unlawful mass surveillance allegations.

The opposition claims that the covertly recorded tapes that it has been releasing since February show that Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was behind the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people, including ministers.

Gruevski, who has held power since 2006, has denied the charges and insists the tapes were “fabricated” by unnamed foreign intelligence services and given to the opposition to destabilise the country.