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News 30 Oct 15

Brussels Mulls 'Conditional Recommendation' for Macedonia

The Commission may condition this year’s recommendation for a start to Macedonia’s EU accession talks on fulfillment of the stalled summer crisis deal, diplomats in Skopje have told BIRN.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

The EC building in Brussels

The European Commission may condition its recommendation for opening accession talks with Macedonia on compliance with the EU-brokered crisis deal reached this summer, diplomats say.

“This is one, very probable, option being considered in order to keep the pressure on Macedonia leaders to deliver on their promises,” a source from the EU delegation to Skopje told BIRN.

The Commission's next annual progress report on Macedonia is due to be issued shortly.

This conditionality might mean that the report would say that a recommendation may only be activated if Macedonia’s leaders pass a package of electoral reforms, appoint new ministers from the ranks of the opposition, give full support to the special prosecutor tasked with investigating illegal wiretapping claims and ensure free and fair elections in April.

Diplomats as well as media mention other possibilities.

One is suspending the recommendation in the progress report with a remark that this is being done due to the logjam in the EU-brokered talks between Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and the opposition.

Another would be to completely omit including the paragraph that would recommend, or not, setting a date for start to accession talks.

Macedonia obtained candidate-country status back in 2005 and for six consecutive years the Commission has been recommending a start to accession talks.

However, the Council of Ministers has not set a date yet due to the Greek blockade related to the dispute over Macedonia’s name, to which Greece objects.

Greece maintains that Macedonia's name implies territorial pretensions to the northern Greek province of the same name.

Since the Macedonians breached several agreed deadlines, Western countries have stepped up pressure, mainly on Gruevski, to unclog the stalled political crisis talks.

On Wednesday, ambassadors called on Gruevski to show more commitment towards implementing the crisis agreement.

Failure to act with "absolute urgency that the situation demands," the ambassadors said, "will impact [on] the assessment by the European Commission."

Gruevski briefly replied that he remains committed to the agreement, blaming the opposition Social Democrats for sabotaging it.

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

The opposition claims the covertly recorded tapes that it has been releasing since February show that Gruevski was behind the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people, including ministers. They insist that the tapes contain incriminating evidence against many high-ranking officials.

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

The EU mediator, Peter Vanhoutte, on Thursday summoned the two teams to resume their talks. The possibility has not been excluded of another EU-initiated meeting between Gruevski and the opposition leader Zoran Zaev over the weekend.

The last meeting, held last weekend, ended without a breakthrough.

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