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news 21 Jan 15

Macedonia MPs Back Controversial Amendments

Parliament in Skopje has adopted two controversial amendments to the constitution, on the formation of international financial zones and redefining marriage.

Goran Rizaov
Skopje

 

With the absence of opposition MPs, Macedonia’s parliament voted late Tuesday to adopt the two most controversial of seven planned changes to the constitution.

One authorizes the opening an “international financial zone” in Macedonia, which aims to attract more foreign direct investment, FDI, to the country. The other defines marriages in heterosexual terms as a union strictly between one man and one woman.

The two government-proposed amendments have received criticism from international human rights activists and the European Commission for Democracy through Law, known as the Venice Commission.

However, Macedonian Justice Minister Adnan Jashari told the parliamentary session that the opinion of the Venice Commission had now been taken into consideration and its remarks included in the drafts.

A former member of the Venice Commission, a professor at the Law faculty in Skopje, Tito Belicanec said this was correct.

“The main threat about the financial zones, for example, was that they could allow the formation of a ‘state within a state’, but now that won’t be allowed,” Belicanec told BIRN today.

“The new law on international financial zones must abide by other Macedonian laws, especially the law on money laundering, which wasn’t the case with the previous version,” he explained.

The amendment concerning marriage rights has been criticized by the rights organisation Amnesty International, which has said it would further entrench discrimination. The amendment “effectively bans same-sex marriage, discriminating against same-sex couples,” Amnesty said on Tuesday.
 
The amendment “is another addition to discrimination, violence and intolerance on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in Macedonia”, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Europe, Gauri van Gulik, said in a public statement.

This amendment previously included a more explicit ban on same-sex marriages and other forms of registered partnerships. However, this was removed after the Venice Commission deemed it incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

In its reaction last autumn, The Venice Commission advised Macedonia not to adopt the constitutional changes at all while opposition MPs were absent from parliament.

“Given the current political situation, it is not the most opportune moment for introducing constitutional amendments,” the Commission wrote in mid-October.

“The process of amending the Constitution requires the broadest political support. Even if the ruling coalition has the necessary number of votes in the Parliament to pass the amendments, it does not absolve the Government from conducting a genuine all-inclusive debate,” it added.

The opposition MPs, led by the Social Democrats, SDSM, have been boycotting parliament since the April 2014 general and presidential elections, accusing Nikola Gruevski’s ruling VMRO DPMNE party and its allies of using electoral fraud to win them.

The ruling parties started the process of constitutional changes last summer.

One of the other changes expected to go to a vote today removes the Justice Minister from the Court Council, body that appoints judges, in order to reduce political influence on the courts.

Another change proposes to cap the rate of public debt to 60 per cent of GDP and the budget deficit to 3 per cent of GDP.

Another change aims to introduce a so-called “constitutional complaint” mechanism whereby people or institutions can file complaints against the authorities.

 

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