By Richard Howitt MEP, Rapporteur for the Foreign Affairs Committee, European Parliament
At the conclusion of a two-day mission where he met with all the political parties in Skopje, Richard Howitt MEP, Rapporteur for the Foreign Affairs Committee, European Parliament gave the following statement to a press conference in the city.
In the current political crisis, as Rapporteur for this country’s accession to the European Union, having taken care to meet all the country’s political parties in private during my visit this week, I want to say some things in public to the people of this country in relation to the current political crisis.
I begin by saying that membership of the European Union is rightly a strategic priority for your country, essential to its future prosperity, stability and place in the world.
There is no-one outside your country who is working for its European future more than I am. But those from outside cannot want integration of your own country in to the EU more than you do for yourselves.
And today I have to say that I deeply regret that the current political situation risks jeopardising future progress.
I do so hoping people will recognise the real progress we have made in Brussels.
I hope people understand that the decision of the European Commissioner last October to promote the idea of resolution of the name issue on the early stages after negotiations start rather than before, and the decision of the European Council to mandate an extra report and to commit to a positive response for a positive report, both represented major breakthroughs.
Next year there will be European Elections and a new European Commission, and no-one should assume that the European Union itself will be able to move forward in the same way.
We all know the importance of good neighbourly relations. And this week I have been told by your politicians of the positive momentum which is being achieved on the name issue, which of course I encourage and must not be lost.
So I place on record my belief that a historic opportunity still exists for this country at the June European Council, but that what happens here in the next few days here could determine what happens in Brussels for some years.
I want people in this country as well as politicians to understand that.
Now let me be clearer about my view of what happened, as I have promised.
I support the proposal for a Commission of Inquiry, so I will not myself prejudge its outcome by seeking to ascribe blame.
But I will say that the perception of what happened on 24 December is that it questions fundamentally the democratic credibility of this country but that the European Parliament does not believe in boycotts of elections in this or any country.
On the issue of the deadline on Saturday and the requisite majority required to still amend the regulations in the days that follow, I want to say this is not a technical matter but an issue of political will.
And my message is that if the political will emerges to overcome the dispute, it is still possible for the dispute to be solved.
On the Committee of Inquiry, I suggest that this must address accountability for what happened.
On electoral arrangements, I was pleased to hear this week that the Ministry of Justice remains committed to implementing the recommendations of the OSCE ODIHR in full, and I fully support that intention.
On the parliamentary rules, I have to say it seems to me unwise to change the rules during the absence of one party. Indeed the incident exposes the comprehensive challenge which still exists for the Sobranie to achieve sufficient independence and authority to be able to hold the executive fully to account.
On freedom of the media, the clearing of journalists and others from the public gallery on the day in question is a separate matter of equally grave proportions, that has led to the end of the Round Table which had previously been making progress. I call for there to be reengagement with the journalists, in circumstances where journalists themselves can have trust and confidence.
Ladies and gentlemen.
In a few weeks I am due to present my own report on this country for vote in the European Parliament. Everyone here knows that, whilst I put forward constructive criticisms, my reports overall have always been favourable to the country’s accession.
In the current circumstances I fear the report voted could become a negative one and, with a heavy heart, I have to tell you this morning that I am considering asking the European Parliament to postpone voting on my report, owing to the current circumstances in the country.
This would, I understand, be one more chance lost to influence the European Commission recommendation in April and the European Council decision that follows, and I am sorry if this becomes the case.
But my hope remains today that it will not be. And that the political parties of the country find a way to put the interests of the country first.