Last week, when I headed to Skopje for another mediation mission, I was fully aware of the urgency of facilitating a political agreement. For too long, the country had suffered from a deep partisan polarisation.
The very serious and systemic rule of law issues revealed in the wire-tapping scandal, but also the recent events in Kumanovo showed that the country was close to the brink, politically and increasingly economically, and risked falling off its Euro-Atlantic path. There was no time to lose. Our Union can't afford a zone of instability at its borders. But more importantly, the citizens of the country deserve better!
Supported by my great colleagues from the European Parliament, MEPs Ivo Vajgl, Richard Howitt and Eduard Kukan, we had invested a lot of time and energy over the last months to break the political stalemate, urge the leaders of the main parties to assume their responsibilities on the basis of their Constitution, and to work on a comprehensive, very robust package of recommendations addressing the deep rule of law problems the country faces.
The fact that the political parties eventually succeeded in reaching an agreement in the early hours of 15 July - after 13 hours of non-stop negotiations - which settled the open points of their prior agreement of 2 June, is above all a success for the country. Its leaders realized finally that they had to compromise, put the country’s and its citizens’ interests first, and agree on a way out of the crisis via early, free and fair elections. The joint mediation efforts of the European Parliament, of our Member States, the US and myself were instrumental in bridging the gaps between them. But first and foremost, this is an agreement signed and owned by the leaders of the main political groups across the political aisle, which they must now implement in full, in good faith and without delay.
Thirteen hours non stop negotiations in Skopje
The agreement itself does not leave any room for doubt, neither in content nor in timing. The opposition's return to Parliament, the appointment of a new Special prosecutor with full autonomy to lead the investigations surrounding and arising from the interception of communications, the appointment of new Ministers and Deputy Ministers in key portfolios, and the entry into office of a new Government 100 days before the early parliamentary elections, are all clearly spelt out. All these substantial measures should strengthen political dialogue and good governance, independent rule of law and trust in justice. They will culminate in free and fair elections on April 24 next year, which shall be prepared by strengthened state election bodies and observed by the OSCE.
Even more fundamentally, these steps go hand in hand with the very precise recommendations issued by the European Commission, which are an integral part of the political agreement and which leaders committed to implement in full. These reform priorities comprise above all indispensable reforms in the area of rule of law, the judiciary and public administration, and not least the media sector, where recent, unacceptable attacks on journalists are a cause for serious concern and vigilance. I have addressed this issue already during the Association Council this week and will not hesitate to follow up. Work on all reform priorities must start now and we will review their implementation, together with all parties and civil society, already in our High Level Accession Dialogue (HLAD) in September.
Let me be crystal clear: the EU has not simply facilitated a short-term stabilizing arrangement. Our aim is to help the country get back on its Euro-Atlantic track and reinvigorate its democracy, open society and governance through elections and sustainable reforms.
Again, there is no time to be wasted. The Commission's Progress Report in mid-October is a key test for the country's European perspective. I am content that our joint mediation bore fruit. All the country's political leaders must now show the credible and constructive attitude that is indispensable. They must step up to the plate and make use of the window of opportunity which their agreement has opened - in their own interest, and that of their nation.
And finally an agreement! Announcement to the press in Skopje
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