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News 15 Jul 15

Hahn Brokers Deal Ending Crisis in Macedonia

After marathon talks, Macedonian leaders have reached an agreement on the formation of an interim government under a new Prime Minister and early elections to be held on April 24.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Macedonian Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, EU Commissioner, Johannes Hahn and Macedonian opposition leader, Zoran Zaev | Photo by: MIA

The EU Enlargement Commissioner has announced that a deal has been reached between Macedonia's warring political parties.

The breakthrough was announced after midnight on Wednesday, following protracted negotiations with the government and opposition in Skopje.

"Agreement reached by political leaders in the interest of the country and its citizens," Johannes Hahn tweeted.

"This agreement keeps the door open for the Euro-Atlantic perspective and boosts rule of law reforms," Hahn added.

MEP Richard Howitt, who was also part of the talks, described the deal as "pulling the country back from the brink".

In a joint statement issued by Hahn and the three MEPs that facilitated the talks, they said they would closely follow implementation of the agreement.

The deal terms stipulate that the government of Nikola Gruevski "will submit its formal resignation to parliament in due time to allow the new government to be sworn in on 15 January 2016, 100 days before the parliament elections which shall be held on 24 April."

A new government led by a Prime Minister nominated by Gruevski's ruling VMRO DPMNE party will limit itself to organizing the snap polls, the agreement adds.

Earlier, the opposition Social Democrats agreed to end their boycott of parliament and return to the assembly on September 1.

Before the new interim government takes over in January, the Social Democrats on October 20 are to appoint a new Interior Minister, after consulting the ruling parties.

They are also to appoint a new Labour Minister and deputy ministers of finance, agriculture and information society and administration.

They will have "the full right of review and veto... in all legal, financial and personnel matters related to the organization of the elections", the deal states, adding that these ministers and deputies will remain in position in the new interim government.

For its part, VMRO DPMNE will appoint deputy interior and labour ministers who will have the same rights to review and veto the decisions of the opposition ministers.

The deal also envisages the appointment of a new "special prosecutor" by September 15 with full authority to lead investigations into the interception of communications. He is to be appointed "by agreement of the understanding parties".

Macedonian Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski and EU Commissioner, Johannes Hahn after the talks | Photo by: MIA

The document signed by Prime Minister Gruevski, Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev, the head of the junior ruling Democratic Union for Integration, Ali Ahmeti and the head of the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, Menduh Thaci, obliges them all to honour it "in full and in good faith".

The crisis in Macedonia revolves around claims of widespread illegal surveillance.

The opposition accuses Gruevski of orchestrating the surveillance of over 20,000 people and is demanding that he and his government resign.

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

The tapes, published in batches, appeared to reveal the government's direct involvement in election fraud, abuse of the justice system and media and even suggest it covered up the murder of a young man by a police officer.

The deal confirms "that Gruevski and his closest associates rule in criminal and corrupt ways and do not win but steal elections," Zaev said at a press conference on Wednesday, adding that "we delivered what we promised,  that Gruevski will not organize and carry out the [early] elections".

Gruevski for his part said he was "satisfied" with the agreement, qualifying his agreed resignation prior to the early elections as a "systematic solution that will apply to all future elections".

Hahn arrived in Skopje shortly after the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, came with the message that, "Now is the time to bring this crisis to an end."

After the deal was reached, Hahn said that the focus now should be put on fulfilling the list of urgent reform priorities that the Commission previously handed the Macedonian authorities.

Hahn also suggested that the deal on ending the internal political crisis in Macedonia would help resolve the country's longstanding dispute with Greece over its name.

"I am more than confident that with the help of our member states, those who have been resistant and reluctant in the past and have blocked the opening of negotiations can be convinced to open the doors for your country's European perspective," he said.

Greece has used the so-called "name" dispute with Macedonia to block its plans to join the EU and NATO. Athens claims use of the name "Macedonia" implies a territorial claim to the northern Greek province also called Macedonia.

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