European Union foreign ministers, meeting on June 20, expressed deep concern at the continuing political crisis in Macedonia, according to statements after the meeting.
The foreign ministers emphasised the importance of implementing the 2015 Pržino agreement, a reference to the EU-brokered deal of June last year that was intended to navigate Macedonia out of its crisis.
That crisis evolved from an opposition boycott of parliament over what they alleged to be manipulation of the elections, then deepened amid a scandal over the alleged illegal wiretapping of 20 000 citizens and foreign diplomats by the government in which Nikola Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE had a majority share.
Gruevski stepped down earlier in 2016 as part of the deal, but the crisis worsened again when president Gjorge Ivanov announced an amnesty for 56 people implicated in the scandal. Early parliamentary elections, most recently scheduled for June 5, have been postponed twice. Ivanov, under Western and domestic opposition pressure including widely-supported protests, revoked the amnesties earlier in June.
According to a statement by Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry, whose minister Daniel Mitov attended the June 20 meeting, the ministers emphasised the importance of real progress on priority reforms. There was universal support for the activities of the office of the special prosecutor, appointed as part of the Pržino agreement.
“The normalisation of the political situation in Macedonia and maintaining good neighbourly relations are essential for the stability of the entire region,” Mitov said.
Mitov emphasised the urgent need to conduct an inclusive dialogue between all political parties and civil society to overcome the crisis in the country.
He underlined that the first step in the process should be the determination of the date for parliamentary elections with the participation of the opposition.
Speaking after the foreign ministers’ meeting, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters: “There is a very clear unity among the member states on the need to have the country’s political leadership engaging in an open dialogue, the implementation of the 2015 Pržino agreement and create the conditions for credible elections, develop rule of law, support the works of the Special Prosecutor and implement the urgent reform priorities”.
Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias, speaking after the June 20 meeting, made a clear reference to there being talk of sanctions against Macedonia – or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), as Athens prefers.
Kotzias, giving his account of the foreign ministers’ meeting to reporters, said: I reminded them that, last year, in the same Council, of June 2015, I underscored to them that there is a major problem with FYROM, which is a deficit in democratic functioning, and particularly in terms of a culture of democratic dialogue and compromise.
“This deficit is also due to the member states of the European Union who call themselves friends of FYROM – member states that ‘educated’ the leaderships of FYROM not to make compromises, because they, these member states, would solve FYROM’s problems. And I told them then, last year, that, unfortunately, through the manner you conduct yourselves with FYROM and throw the weight onto Greece, in the end these leaderships of our neighbour will not be in a position to make domestic compromises that are necessary for the development of democracy,” Kotzias said.
“Unfortunately, I proved to be right. Because this leadership, the way the Europeans treated it, did not learn to make compromises, and the main issues we have today are, first, to help with a culture of compromise. Second, to help in the development of democracy, particularly by contributing to there being regular electoral rolls and democratic functioning of the news media. Third, that they shouldn’t – because this was heard – consider sanctions. In general, like the Greek government, I am against sanction systems. In the case of FYROM, too, we will not allow sanctions.”
According to Kotzias, ” the real friends of the stability of this country are countries like Greece and Bulgaria”.
“And I reiterated to them that the creation of this state is a real fact that one must look upon it positively. But the name this state has and the irredentism that name conceals are negative elements,” the Greek foreign minister said.