Last-Ditch Efforts Made to Solve Macedonia Crisis

International representatives are stepping up pressure for a last-minute compromise to end Macedonia’s political crisis and re-start the stalled EU accession process.In a final attempt to end Macedonia’s politicial crisis, the European Parliament rapporteur on Macedonia, Richard Howitt, is due to arrive in Skopje on Thursday.

He already visited the country in mid-February but left unhappy, he said, because of the impasse between the government and opposition parties.

Howitt announced his new visit at a meeting in Brussels with Macedonia’s new Deputy Prime Minister, Fatmir Besimi, who is in charge of European affairs.

Meanwhile, heads of the Delegation of the European Union, the OSCE Mission and the US embassy in Skopje on Wednesday in a joint statement urged political leaders to “without further delay find a definitive solution to the current political crisis”.

Warning that the country is at a “critical juncture”, the OSCE, EU and US representatives said that “there must be a move away from public ultimatums, fixed positions and short-term tactics towards direct dialogue and compromise”.

The blunt statement came after it became clear that the government and the opposition were nowhere near reaching a deal that would ensure the participation of the opposition in the March local elections or the return of its legislators to parliament.

At a party’s central board meeting on Tuesday, the opposition Social Democrats said the decision to boycott the local elections was final. The ruling VMRO DPMNE party said only that it regretted the move.

Earlier this week, it offered to postpone the local elections for one week in order to give the opposition more time to change its mind and submit its lists of candidates.

OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier on Wednesday welcomed the postponement calling it a “a new window of opportunity”.

However, the ruling party did not accept the main opposition demand, which was to organize parallel early general elections.

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

The crisis deepened when the opposition refused to submit a list of mayoral candidates by a February 24 deadline, after the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski rejected their calls to postpone the local elections, or call an early general election.

Last week, the Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fuele, in separate letters to Macedonian leaders, expressed “deep concern” about “lack of progress” in ending the stalemate.

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.

It 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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