Howitt for “Meta”: Macedonia did not fall over, but it is still standing on the edge


In the past three years, since the 24th of December, 2012, it seems that Macedonia is in a constant political crisis. After the agreement of 15 July, you said that the country managed to pull itself from the brink. What is your point of view about the current situation, bearing in mind that the political leaders breached all the deadlines of the agreement?

  • Well, from the 15th of July, Macedonia managed not to fall over the edge of the cliff, but it is still standing right on that edge. And I deeply regret that fact that I have to be here today in literally hours, not days, before the EU progress report is finalized, with uncertainty about, will the agreement be honoured, and  huge implications therefore for the European Union can say about this country and its European future. But I am here, still with the hope, that today, tomorrow, that the agreement will be honoured in full. It won’t be the end of controversy in this country, I know that, I’m realistic enough to know that. Each step must be made, each problem must be bridged, and today’s problem is that we had an agreement,  that hasn’t been fulfilled, and unless that is put right, it is going to have a very fundamental effect on the European future on the country.

You mentioned huge implications for Macedonia, can you please elaborate a little more not only on the EU progress report, but also what you and European ambassadors have been mentioning and the negotiator here about possible repercussions, regarding blockages, putting politicians on the blacklist. Do you think that this is real opportunity, that, you, the decision makers can proceed with this, if there is no chance of a deal or a breakthrough?

  • I think that in the political culture in this country, some in the parties have become use to disputes and conflict, thinking it has no long lasting international implications, and that is fundamentally a mistake in belief. The progress report is important, I think it already too late to have a positive recommendation simply repeating the commitment of the last years, there will be a conditionality in the report, I foresee, which will be a step backwards for the country. I hope its not a complete closing of the door, but I know that this has a big impact on inter-ethnic relations in the country, and in the confidence of the Albanian community, that the country can move forward in a unified way. And I know from my discussions with the Government here, that it has a big impact on the confidence on foreign investors, and the ability to attract investors, which is necessary given still the deep economic problems that have suffered here, and the need to revive the economy. And I do believe,
    I was part of discussions that raised the issue of possible brake pre-accession funds, which come directly from Brussels, as was the case in countries where there may have been precedents which were interrupted. It will have a direct impact on all projects and programs that benefit within the country. So I think we can speculate on other actions, but in relation to those, I know that all those serious implications that can and would be affected.

So what’s the political message behind the conditional recommendation?

  • Until the progress report is published, I can only predict what it might say, and to be very honest and open, as I am being with you and in this visit and as I’ve said during my private conversations with Commissioner Johannes Hahn, for me, I still have every dear wishe that this country goes back on track to the European Union and eventually becomes a member. People here have been stopping me in the streets already and I say “keep hope,” but what I tell the politicians is that you have to deliver. And I repeat what I said at the press conference, Mr. Hahn during his last visit was pretty clear in his comment. The comments of the international community read out by Ambassador Charles Garrett, on behalf of the EU and the US were pretty clear, it’s Mr Gruevski’s party who have fallen short of meeting the commitments and they must hear that strong message, not just from people from the other-side of the political fence but from the whole international community.
    I believe that all four parties have a responsibility to maintain a spirit of compromise, but the international community and the European Union can and must hold to account those who fail to meet commitments that we were a part of helping to negotiate, we expect it to be fulfilled.

Talking about one thing that Brussels has been consistent about accountability and possible wrong doing. Can you please comment on the fact that the Council of Public Prosecutors has been blocking the work of the Special Public Prosecutor and her deputies, although today it was announced that there was progress. How does this affect the Przhino Agreement?

  • Well, first of all, my next meeting is with the Special Prosecutor, I think the appointment of a Special Prosecutor and the International Communities role in helping in assisting that appointment, is something I do welcome. There has been serious criminal wrong doing in this country in connection with the wire tapping scandal and mass surveillance. It’s not for me as a politician to cite responsibility for that, but there must be an objective, fair and impartial investigation, leading to convictions for that criminality. The Special Prosecutor must be given full support to enable her to pursue that. I am told that there were difficulties with the appointment of its team, that they were administrative and procedural issues rather than political. I hope that this is the case,  and I am told there is a meeting at 16:00. They said that at present,  it is likely to overcome the problem. I am also told that both main political parties agreed on the number of prosecutors and funding for the Special Prosecutor, which means that there are no political objections behind that agreement. I hope that today the administrative and procedural reasons can and will be bridged.

There was some information that some EU member states, which are part of an unofficial club of friends of Macedonia, such as Sweden, Finland, Belgium, and Great Britain are pulling out and will not give the green light for a date to start negotiations. How much truth is there in all this?

  • .Can I totally dismiss that report. I read it and talked about it with the British Ambassador, and the Ambassadors of France and Germany and it is not true. It is an inaccurate report. I’m sad that it took such a European and international involvement to overcome the political crisis, but the fact of life is that they had to intervene. I appeal to all Member States of the European Union and the International Community to stay engaged and continue to exert pressure, because at this stage without the support and involvement, it is hard to move things in the right direction.

What if negotiations fail and the EU does not give a recommendation. What next?

  •  I think you can argue that Macedonia has been left alone. It’s been stuck in the last years and I do not want to see it, I want to see change. So when people approach me on the street and ask me what will happen, I say, “Keep hope, because I continue to hope for this country.”

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