Rise above political bickering, EU urges Macedonia leaders

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2017 12:13 PM

By Kole Casule

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia need to rise above political bickering and form a government as soon as possible to unblock the Balkan country's European Union membership path, the EU said on Tuesday.

Johannes Hahn, commissioner in charge of enlargement, began a visit to the country with a targeted tweet:

"EU path open for Skopje after last (EU summit) but clock ticking. Need statesmanship instead of tactics. Economy hurting."

At an EU summit earlier this month Balkans was placed high on the agenda to show that despite ethnic tensions and the scars from wars fought in the 1990s, the region is a priority for the European Union, particularly as Russia also seeks to increase its influence there.

Macedonia's accession into the European Union and NATO has been blocked over a name dispute with Greece, the latter seeing the name Macedonia as a territorial grab.

But there is also an internal political standoff over the next government and Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority.

Hahn was meeting political leaders to discuss ways out of the political crisis triggered by a surveillance scandal in 2015 that forced a nationalist leader Nikola Gruevski to resign.

The crisis is the worst since Western diplomacy helped drag the country of 2.1 million people back from the brink of civil war during an ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001, promising it a path to membership of the European Union and of NATO.

In a snap election in December, the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE won 51 seats to the Social Democrats' 49, leaving neither able to form a government without parties representing ethnic Albanians, who make up a third of the population.

Last month Social Democrat leader, Zoran Zaev won support of three ethic Albanian parties after promising them a law on wider use of Albanian language, a deal which triggered daily protests in Skopje. President Gjeorge Ivanov refused to give mandate to Zaev to form the government.

In a statement on Tuesday Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE urged Zaev to back down from the deal with Albanian parties or agree to new elections. Zaev did not respond.

Hahn will not meet Ivanov whose move to block the coalition of ethnic Albanian parties and Social Democrats to form the government deepened the crisis. Ivanov is traveling, his office said on Tuesday in a statement.

A movement that called itself "For Joint Macedonia" urged on social media for people to come out and protest in bigger numbers on Tuesday to demonstrate Hahn majority of the Macedonians was against the coalition deal.

(Writing by Ivana Sekularac Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)