EU's Tusk fails to make progress on Macedonian political crisis

EU's Tusk fails to make progress on Macedonian political crisis
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje April 3, 2017

European Council President Donald Tusk failed to persuade Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov to give a mandate to Social Democratic leader Zoran Zaev to form a government at a meeting on April 3. 

Tusk met Ivanov in Skopje in the latest bid by EU officials to solve the Macedonian crisis. The country has been without a government since the December 11 elections, as the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party did not win enough seats to form a majority government and failed to put together a coalition, while Zaev has so far been denied a mandate by Ivanov despite having struck a coalition deal with parties representing the ethnic Albanian minority. 

Tusk said at a joint news conference that the long-standing political crisis is delaying Macedonia’s bid to join the European Union (it has been a candidate country since 2005) and he urged Ivanov and the Macedonian authorities to find a solution to the crisis based on democratic principles.

“The protracted crisis in #FYROM is holding the country back from its Euro-Atlantic path. It is for his President, Gjorge Ivanov, to find a solution to the crisis, based on democratic principles, decency and common sense. Only such a solution can be a lasting one. When he will find it, he can then count on EU support,” said a comment posted on Tusk’s Facebook page

However, Ivanov said in a statement that he will stick to his previous decision not to give the mandate to Zaev to form a government, arguing that his decision is based on the Macedonian constitution. 

The agreement between Zaev’s Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and the Albanian parties would see additional rights given to ethnic Albanians within Macedonia, including the wider official use of the Albanian language. 

The ethnic Albanian parties represented in the new parliament agreed in January on a common platform, and adoption of the platform is a condition for the parties to back any government. This condition resulted in a breakdown of talks between VMRO-DPMNE and its former coalition partner the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI). 

Zaev, whose party has been in opposition for a decade, reached a coalition deal with the DUI, but Ivanov refused to give a mandate to the SDSM leader, saying his concessions to the Albanian parties threaten to destabilise Macedonia. 

A mass protest was held by the For United Macedonia movement on April 3 to coincide with Tusk’s visit. The movement has organised daily protests against the Albanian platform - which it dubs the “Tirana platform” as it was drawn up with input from the Albanian and Kosovan leadership and signed in Tirana - and to demand early elections.

Meanwhile, SDSM officials say that VMRO-DPMNE should accept that it is now in opposition and continue to call on Ivanov, who is close to VMRO-DPMNE, to allow them to form a government. 

Zaev believes that if the parliament elects a speaker he will be able, under the law, to obtain a mandate from the president to form a government, since he already has a majority.

Ivanov has so far resisted pressure both from the SDSM and from the international community to give the mandate to Zaev. 

In late March, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn came to Skopje with the same purpose as Tusk but Ivanov refused to meet him. 

However, he took a more conciliatory position during Tusk’s visit, calling the European council president “a sincere friend of Macedonia and supporter of our European aspirations.”

Speaking after his meeting with Tusk, the Macedonian president called on Brussels to speed up Macedonia’s stalled EU integration process, and stressed Skopje’s role in helping to stem the flow of refugees and migrants towards Europe during the recent migration crisis. 

Ivanov said that Macedonia must stay focused on European reforms, as the only way to eliminate the causes of the political crises. However, he also called for action from the EU side, in particular to address Greece’s veto over Macedonia’s progress towards accession. 

“I think the European Union should find a way to open the 23rd and 24th [accession negotiation] chapters on the judiciary, fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security, for all candidate countries and potential candidates in the region,” Ivanov said. 

“And to prevent the blocking of the process, the EU should find a way to prevent the accession process being abused to blackmail the settlement of bilateral issues. The blockade of the European integration process of Macedonia must stop, as soon as possible.”

The Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) said in a new report that the EU should open Chapters 23 and 24 with Western Balkan countries that have not already done so as soon as possible, in order to prevent backsliding in democracy and freedom in the region. 

However, with no government, daily protests and the lack of will to compromise, a quick solution to the political crisis in Macedonia looks a long way off, despite the EU’s increased pressure.