As the deadline nears for a decision on the announced opposition boycott of the local elections, EU politicians are heading to Skopje to kick start dialogue between opposition and government.As the deadline to submit lists of candidates for the March local elections looms on February 16, it will soon be clear whether the opposition Social Democrats intend to act on their threats to boycott the polls.
In a last-ditch attempt to move things forward, the European Parliament rapporteur on Macedonia, Richard Howitt, is due in Skopje on Wednesday.
In advance of his arrival, Howitt said he would try to exert a “positive and constructive” influence on matters so that dialogue can resume.
The visit comes in the middle of a political crisis that some fear could derail Macedonia’s EU agenda entirely.
The opposition insists they will boycott the polls if the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski continues to reject their demand for early general elections.
If a boycott goes ahead, it will inevitably complicate the local elections, bringing their legitimacy into question.
Meanwhile, in two weeks’ time, the European Parliament is due to start discussing Howitt’s latest draft resolution on the country’s progress.
In light of the political crisis, MEPs have submitted 203 amendments to the resolution, some expressing deep concern over recent events.
The EU Council has said that any decision on opening accession talks for Macedonia will be based on the next report of the European Commission, due in spring.
The report will assess whether Macedonia has taken real steps towards reaching a deal with Greece over its name, to which Greece objects, has improved relations with Bulgaria and has carried out reforms at home.
“This is an important opportunity… I would like to speak about it with all the political players… in order to use that opportunity,” Howitt said.
For three consecutive years, the European Commission has recommended a start to Macedonian acession talks.
However, the Council of Ministers has not acted on the recommendations owing to the blockade from Greece connected to the dispute over the country’s name.
The EU Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fuele, is also due to arrive in the country next week, but his mission will come too late to affect the local elections deadline.