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News 24 Jun 15

EU Council Presses Reforms on Macedonia

Macedonia must carry out urgent reforms and investigate the corruption claims that have arisen from recently revealed wiretapped conversations, the EU General Affairs Council said.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Photo by: European Union

The EU Council, which met in Luxembourg on Tuesday, urged Macedonia's sparring leaders to focus on resolving the country's ongoing political crisis and start implementing a set of urgent reforms.

Reforms are required "in relation to systemic rule of law issues confirmed by or arising out of the current crisis, including in relation to breaches of fundamental rights, judicial freedom, media freedom, elections, corruption, politicisation of state institutions and state/party blurring and failures of oversight", the Council said.

The conclusions reflect the findings of a recently published European Commission report, which listed much the same reforms as urgently required.

The Council said it will closely monitor implementation of the set priorities. The first assessment of the steps taken by Macedonia will be in July at the meeting of the Stabilisation and Association Council.

In addition, the Council urged "a thorough and independent investigation of the material revealed [by the opposition] and any criminal wrongdoing, with full regard for due process, the principle of the independence of the judiciary and the presumption of innocence".

Macedonia is in the throes of a deep political crisis that centres on claims of mass illegal surveillance.

The opposition Social Democrats led by Zoran Zaev accuse Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his government of masterminding the surveillance of over 20,000 people and are demanding that he and his entire government resign.

Gruevski has insisted that compromising tapes of officials' conversations, which have been released in batches by the opposition since February, were “created” by unnamed foreign intelligence services and given to the opposition to destabilise the country.

The tapes point to election fraud, abuse of the justice system and media and suggest that the government covered up responsibility for the murder of a young man by a policeman.

The EU has brokered a deal with the authorities for Macedonia to hold early elections. However, the Council said it was important that the snap polls be seen to be fair.

"Electoral reform in line with recommendations by OSCE/ODIHR is urgently required and will, in conjunction with initial systemic reforms, contribute to ensuring a level playing field ahead of future elections," the Council noted.

Prime Minister Gruevski noted the Council's conclusions on his Facebook page with apparent approval.

"We are resuming with dedication to the reform process and the June 2 [early election] agreement. We will continue raising the standards in all areas... Macedonia will emerge stronger from this crisis... The government will come up with a concrete plan for measures and activities in line with the reform process," Gruevski wrote.

The EU Enlargement Commissioner, Johannes Hahn, brokered an agreeement for fresh elections to be held in the country by next April at the latest.

The Council greeted this agreement as a basis for future talks set for June 29 in Skopje at which the government and the opposition will be pressed to agree on the details of the caretaker government that will prepare the snap polls.

The main unanswered question is whether Gruevski will continue to head the government up to the early elections.

The European Council comprises the heads of state or government of the EU member states, along with the council's own president and the president of the Commission.

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