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News 27 Oct 15

Last-Ditch Effort to Save Macedonia Crisis Deal

After several missed deadlines, optimism about a breakthrough at stalled talks between the Macedonian government and opposition is running low, although Brussels says it is not giving up yet.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Photo: AP / Boris Grdanovski

As the informal Monday deadline for a deal on several key urgent reform priorities expired, the EU delegation to Macedonia said that it was still trying to bring the two sides closer to an agreement to end the political crisis that has gripped the country.

“We cannot say yet that the deal is dead,” a source from the EU delegation to Macedonia told BIRN under condition of anonymity.

But the source stressed that action was needed now to save the deal.

“We must point out that the situation is urgent and that country’s leaders need to find immediate solutions in order to preserve the country’s European perspective,” the source said.

The source also said that EU mediators are currently meeting the country’s warring political parties in order to iron out differences about two key points - the appointment of opposition figures as government ministers and the completion of the Special Prosecutor's team to investigate the mass surveillance allegations that sparked the political crisis.

Last week, EU mediator Peter Vanhoutte told media that the EU-brokered crisis deal would be dead - and Macedonia may find itself as isolated as Belarus - if leaders fail to agree on the key reforms by the weekend.

This came after the parties missed the October 20 deadline for the appointment of opposition ministers to Nikola Gruevski’s government.

The parties previously missed the deadline for a package of urgent electoral reforms to ensure free and fair early elections in April and failed to enable the Special Prosecutor to start probing the illegal surveillance cases.

On Friday at midnight, Gruevski and the opposition Social Democrats, SDSM leader, Zoran Zaev, again failed to strike a deal.

The opposition over the weekend warned that if the talks fail, it will release more incriminating wiretapped conversations of senior officials.

“All options remain open,” said SDSM MP and spokesperson Petre Shilegov.

But in a speech on Friday at a ceremony commemorating a national holiday, the day of the VMRO [a historic Ottoman-era clandestine revolutionary organization], Gruevski remained defiant.

“The opposition is a tool of foreign interests,” Gruevski said.

“This is our country and no one except the people has the right to make decisions,” he added, referring to the pressure from the international community for a deal with the opposition.

He also said that if country loses a recommendation for start of EU accession talks in the European Commission annual progress report that is expected to be published next week, the opposition would be to blame. 

Malinka Ristovska, the head of the Centre for European Cooperation NGO, said that the government must take the E’s warnings seriously. 

“Diplomatic sanctions can become reality very soon. Then the freezing of the financial help would follow and other measures like suspension of agreements, financial and trade sanctions… and blacklisting certain individuals,” Ristovska said.

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

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