European Parliament (EP) rapporteur for Macedonia Richard Howitt said that the country needs to achieve progress in the implementation of the recommendations of the inquiry committee, progress in reaching an agreement with Bulgaria, as well as visible improvement on freedom of expression, state news agency MIA reported. Such actions will help persuade EU member states that the country sufficiently meets the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership, ahead of the Union’s Summit in December. Howitt reiterated that in addition to Macedonia’s two neighbours, several more EU states need to be persuaded that the country meets the criteria.
He said that progress in the above areas will warrant taking substantive steps on the European Commission’s fifth recommendation for opening accession talks with Macedonia. However, we doubt that the Summit will set a date, because the key reason why the European Council has not yet implemented the Commission’s recommendations is the unresolved dispute between Macedonia and Greece concerning the former’s name.
Meanwhile, we remind that the inquiry committee examined the events of December 24, 2012, when a large number of opposition lawmakers and journalists were forcibly removed from the parliament’s plenary hall during the adoption of the 2013 budget. Howitt noted that it is essential to achieve as much progress as possible in implementing the recommendations of the committee, by political consensus between the parties, “so there is no chance of last year's events concerning the budget being repeated this year or any other year.”
With regard to freedom of expression, the EP rapporteur warned against passing the proposed media bill without the broad support from journalists. Howitt also commented on the case of the investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski, who was sentenced by a Macedonian court to 4.5 years in prison for allegedly revealing the identity of a witness in a murder case in 2008. The MEP said he is concerned by the lengthy use of pre-trial detention in this and other cases, as well as by excessive delays in prosecutions. The rapporteur said that this may result in restricting investigative journalism and promoting self-censorship in the media.
During his visit to Macedonia, Howitt met the PM, ministers and representatives of associations and NGOs.
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