European Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle was due in Skopje on April 9 2013 for a meeting with prime minister Nikola Gruevski as part of the EU’s high-level dialogue with Macedonia.
The meeting was to be followed by a joint news conference by Füle and Gruevski. It is Füle’s third visit to Skopje this year, with the agenda including the high-level dialogue and also a review of the implementation of the March 1 political agreement. He was scheduled to be accompanied by Enlargement Director-General Stefano Sannino.
The Füle visit comes after an April 8 vote, 39 for and 13 against, by the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, calling for the opening of EU accession talks with Macedonia before the end of June 2013.
In a vote on Macedonia’s 2012 progress report, MEPs called on the EU Enlargement Commissioner to assess the cost of non-enlargement, including key risks for the country should the current status quo persist. Macedonia was granted EU candidate status in December 2005.
MEPs said that the start of negotiations could itself be a “game-changer”, giving positive impetus to further reforms and promoting favourable relations with neighbours. They welcomed what was termed Macedonia’s constructive role in its relations with other enlargement countries, and singled out the recent first meeting between representatives of Skopje and Sofia governments.
The committee also emphasised that the inability to solve the name dispute has blocked the country’s road to EU membership and called for definitive conclusion under the UN auspices without delay. Separately, reports said that long-serving UN-appointed mediator in the “Macedonia” name dispute, Matthew Nimetz, was to meet representatives of Athens and Skopje for discussions, first separately and then jointly. The most recent UN-brokered talks on the name dispute were in New York at the end of January 2013.
Members of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee “fully supported” the recent agreement unblocking the deadlock in the domestic politics after the events of December 24 2012, which saw a third of MPs and journalists forced out of parliament in Skopje.
All political forces in the country must respect its parliament as a key democratic institution for discussing and resolving political differences, the MEPs said, calling for a comprehensive reform of the parliament’s procedures.
MEPs voiced concern about tensions in inter-ethnic relations in the country and urged that political dialogue be stepped up to eliminate the risk of a polarisation of society along ethnic lines.
The authorities and civil society must bring about an historic reconciliation that overcomes the divisions between and within different ethnic and national groups, including citizens of Bulgarian identity, MEPs underlined. They asked the government to send clear signals that discrimination on the basis of national identity is not tolerated in the country.
MEPs also insisted on the need for further effort to enforce anti-corruption legislation, ensure the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in practice and overcome widespread self-censorship among journalists.
The resolution, drafted by Richard Howitt (S&D, UK) is likely to be put to a vote by the European Parliament as a whole at its May 2013 plenary session in Strasbourg.
The resolution was approved on the day after the final round of local elections, with victories dominated by the parties of Macedonia’s ruling coalition, but with the opposition crying foul and some NGOs and media reports alleging irregularities during voting.
It also coincided with the April 8 unveiling of more than 20 new statues in the “Skopje 2014” project, adding to the about 30 monumental items already erected in the project, which has raised critical questions locally about the cost and caused consternation, indignation and, to a lesser extent, amusement in neighbouring countries about some of the historical figures chosen for depiction by the government in the South East European country’s capital.