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News 05 Apr 17

Macedonia's Politicians Risk Sanctions, Observers Say

Macedonia's politicians who continue to block the formation of a new government are risking a radical shift in Brussels’ and Washington’s attitude and increasing the risk of sanctions being imposed against them.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
 European Council President, Donald Tusk and Macedonian President, Gjorge Ivanov. Photo: MIA

Diplomats and political analysts say that it is becoming increasingly certain that the US and European governments may soon resort to various sanctions against Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov and former Prime Minister and leader of the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE, Nikola Gruevski.

Ivanov and Gruevski are continuing to block the formation of an opposition-led government.

Political science professor and experienced Macedonian diplomat Gjorgi Spasov said that after the EU and the USA exhaust joint friendly efforts to persuade Ivanov and Gruevski to concede the victory of the opposition-led coalition, sanctions will be the next expected step.

”Apart from a ban on travelling to the United States and the seizing of Ivanov’s, Gruevski’s, and their business and political associates’ properties ... they might also face international investigations for misusing money from EU funds, for involvement in international crime, and subsequently be subjected to international criminal inquiries,” Spasov said.

He thinks that in parallel with this, Gruevski, whose party has been in power since 2006, will face, or is already facing an additional pressure from the European People's Party, EPP, to resign from the leadership of VMRO-DPMNE as the party could be expelled from EPP.

Speculation about possible sanctions increased after European Council President Donald Tusk failed to persuade Ivanov to end his blockade on Monday. The two had an hour-long tete-a-tete in Skopje.

The head of NGO the Centre for European Cooperation, Malinka Ristevska, said that if talks fail to yield results “it is likely that  other means will be resorted to. On the one hand, political isolation and on the other – sanctions."

Following Monday's parlay between Ivanov and Tusk, which comes after several repeated calls from top EU and US representatives for the president to remove his blockade, Ivanov stated that his position remained unchanged.

Tusk, carefully choosing words at the joint press conference, told Ivanov that, "it is for you to find a solution based on democratic principles, decency and common sense," adding ,"when you find it you can count on our support."

Former Macedonian Ambassador to Austria, Georgi Filipov said that while this statement does not sound severe, it is in fact a serious warning towards Ivanov.

The statement was “the last warning before passing real measures with which the EU will show its discontent in a concrete manner, not only in words,” Filipov told Deutsche Welle, adding that after the last parlay, "the EU has no other options."

The Diplomatic Club, an informal association of current and retired Macedonian diplomats and of foreign representatives in the country, has expressed concerns that the actions of Macedonian politicians could hinder the entire country.

In a press statement after their session on Tuesday, held in the light of Tusk's visit, the Diplomatic Club warned that by refusing to accept the outcome of the elections, Macedonia's top politicians risk endangering the country's strategic interests and partnerships.

”It is evident that their [the EU’s] efforts to overcome the crisis and implement democratic procedures have not been well received ... the partnership built with the EU is at stake,” the Diplomatic Club cautioned.

It added that should the political stalemate continue, Macedonia risks losing all the benefits of the EU Stabilisation and Association Agreement, Macedonia's EU candidate status, visa liberalisation, and even loosing the recommendation for start of EU accession talks.

Macedonia has not formed a government since early general elections took place in December last year. The crisis took a turn for the worse on March 1 when Ivanov refused to offer opposition leader Zoran Zaev the mandate to form a government despite the opposition leader having secured a majority in parliament.

Ivanov, reflecting the stance of the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party, said Zaev’s alleged acceptance of the so-called "Albanian Platform" might destroy Macedonia.

The opposition said that this was only an excuse so that Gruevski, who stands accused of many alleged criminal acts, could cling to power.

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