Howitt: Early Elections Are Up to Macedonia

The deal that ended Macedonia’s political crisis foresees possible early elections – but only if the parties agree on it by autumn, the European Parliament Rapporteur on Macedonia.Richard Howitt told Balkan Insight that early general elections are up to parliament – after government and opposition came out with contradictory readings of the deal brokered on Friday.

The MEP said the parties were obliged to discuss the issue “in good faith”, and that “all outcomes of the talks are open and up to the two sides to agree”.

The parties have time to agree on this until early September, Howitt said, so that their decision could be taken into account in the European Commission’s annual progress report, which is to be released later in autumn.

“The problems must be resolved within the country so that the country can demonstrate its democratic capacity. The EU can only support the process,” Howitt said.

Ahead of talks with EU representatives last Friday, Macedonia’s opposition Social Democrats agreed to end their parliamentary boycott and take part in local elections set for March 24.

But, after the agreement was announced, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski told a rally of his VMRO DPMNE party that early general elections had not been agreed.

The head of the Social Democrats, Branko Crvenkovski, at the weekend claimed the opposite, saying that “there will be early elections”, and they would probably happen in autumn.

Another pressing issue envisaged in the deal is the formation of a commission of inquiry into the incidents in parliament on December 24, that triggered the political crisis.

The commission of five members will be chaired by a person nominated by President Gjorge Ivanov, while the opposition will nominate two members, the ruling VMRO DPMNE party one, and one other will be an international expert. It will adopt decisions by consensus.

“There have been discussions on including one or two international experts who will be observer members only”, without the right to vote, Howitt noted.

On Tuesday, President Ivanov said that the commission should be operational within two weeks.

It will have two months to submit a report to the President. The findings will also inform an important European Commission report on Macedonia due next spring.

The Social Democrats and VMRO DPMNE have not said whom they plan to propose for the commission and who might be its head.

The Social Democrats launched their boycott of parliament on December 24 after the government parties passed a budget for 2013 in just a few minutes, after opposition MPs and journalists were expelled from the chamber.

The crisis threatened to derail Macedonia’s EU agenda, as the EU Council has said that any decision on opening accession talks for Macedonia will be based on the next report from the European Commission.

This will assess whether Macedonia has taken real steps towards reaching a deal with Greece over its name, to which Athens objects, whether it has improved relations with Bulgaria and has carried out reforms at home.

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