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12th Jul 2020

Macedonia president considers U-turn amid EU pressure

  • Ivanov also appealed for and end to violent street protests (Photo: Saeima)

The Macedonian president has indicated that he is willing to do a U-turn on a controversial pardon amid intensifying EU pressure.

“Consultations are under way with legal experts in order to find a possible legal solution,” Gjorgi Ivanov said in a written statement on Thursday (21 April). He said he had received “personal requests” from some of the very people that he had pardoned “for withdrawal of the decision.”

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  • Hahn: "We deeply regret retrograde steps" (Photo: Open Days - European Week of Cities and Regions)

The situation arose when Ivanov, on 12 April, issued a blanket amnesty for 56 politicians, most of whom had been under investigation by a special prosecutor.

The prosecutions had been initiated under the Przino Agreement, an EU and US-brokered pact designed to end a long-running political crisis.

The suspicion in EU circles is that Ivanov did it under instruction from the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party of former prime minister Nikola Gruevski.

The prosecution had risked publishing indictments of top VMRO-DPMNE figures, including Gruevski, on electoral fraud and financial corruption ahead of elections due in June.

The pardon prompted a furious reaction by opposition leader Zoran Zaev who said he would boycott the vote and whose supporters clashed with police in Skopje.

It also prompted rebukes from the EU.

The EU on Thursday intensified pressure by threatening unspecified sanctions.

“We deeply regret retrograde steps that move the country further away from its aspirations towards European Union accession. In the absence of any further progress, we are now forced to consider further actions,” EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a joint statement with three MEPs who had been involved in the process.

They added that crisis talks which had been due in Vienna on Friday could not take place.

Sanctions

One option on the table would be for the European Commission to withdraw its positive recommendation on Macedonia’s readiness to start accession talks - a potential first in EU history.

Another option, one EU official told the Reuters news agency, would be “sanctions on politicians blocking a resolution of the crisis.”

“They’ve got to undo the damage done by the pardon,” a second EU source told EUobserver.

Ivanov’s statement - that some of the very people facing jail had appealed to him to let the prosecutions go on - is a sign that VMRO-DPMNE has decided to back down.

The personal appeals are one of the few legal avenues for Ivanov to overturn his prior decision.

The suspects’ face-saving rhetoric is that they want the cases to go forward in order to prove their innocence and clear their names.

It is unsure if the June elections will go ahead even if the pardon issue is resolved, however.

Part of the reason for Zaev’s boycott is that VMRO-DPMNE had stalled electoral reforms, such as an audit of voter lists, that were designed to create a free and fair vote

The Hahn statement also called for “steps urgently required for the preparation of credible elections which could be recognised by the international community.”

Albanian factor

The third major party, the DUI, representing Macedonia’s Albanian minority, has promised to take part.

Artan Grubi, a senior DUI deputy, earlier told EUobserver that elections are the “only solution” to the crisis, which could end in violence and which had paralysed state institutions.

The DUI is in a strong position because if it pulled out of the ruling coalition with VMRO-DPMNE the government would fall, aggravating the situation.

The EU concern is that DUI will threaten to do so but closer to the June vote in order to extract pro-Albanian concessions.

The crisis erupted in 2015 when Zaev began to leak wiretaps on Gruevski’s circle that showed them involved in a laundry list of abuses.

Gruevski at the time said the leak was orchestrated by a foreign power that wanted to destabilise Macedonia.

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