Macedonia: Referendum Talks Halt Without Breakthrough
By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Talks between Macedonia’s main ruling Social Democrats, led by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, and the main opposition VMRO DPMNE party, led by Hristijan Mickovski, failed to clear the path on Thursday towards a referendum on the historic “name” deal with Greece.
The two sides said they remained unable to agree on key issues like the formation of the State Electoral Commission, DIK, which will prepare the plebiscite, or on the plebiscite question.
“We will give chance to talks [with the opposition] as long as that is possible,” Zaev said after Thursday’s meeting, which lasted for more than four hours.
Regarding speculation that the opposition may have demanded an amnesty for its officials and supporters now on trial for past crimes, and for last year’s April 27 attack on parliament – in exchange for allowing the formation of the DIK – Zaev said only that this would be unacceptable.
“The strategic goals of our country and of all the parliamentary parties are full EU and NATO memberships. There are no compromises over these strategic goals. Amnesty, direct or indirect, will not happen,” Zaev said.
VMRO DPMNE leader Mickovski told the media that he remained “an optimist” regarding an agreement on the referendum.
He denied that his party had asked for an amnesty, saying that this was “one more harsh attempt to manipulate the public” with issues that were not in the frame of the leadership meetings.
A principal aim of the landmark agreement with Greece, signed on June 17, was to ensure that Greece ended its longstanding blockade of Macedonia’s membership of NATO and the EU.
Under the deal, Macedonia agreed to change its name to Republic of North Macedonia, while Greece agreed to lift its veto on Macedonia’s EU and NATO integration.
For the deal to be fully implemented, however, Macedonians must show they support it in a referendum.
The Social Democrat-led government wants the vote held in late September or early October, so that there is time to adopt the required constitutional changes by year-end.