Macedonia opposition leaves parliament

Vreme.jpg

The socialist opposition in EU candidate country Macedonia has announced it is leaving the country's parliament, in protest against a move by the centre-right government to block the bank accounts of several media companies.

Branko Crvenkovski, leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), said on Friday (28 January) that his party would leave the parliament in Skopje, according to press reports in the region.

The socialists have 18 MPs in the 120-member parliament.

The ruling coalition consists of centre-right affiliated parties with 53 MPs (the VMRO-DPMNE alliance) and the ethnic Albania Democratic Union for Integration, with 18 MPs.

Crvenkovski, who has in the recent past served as prime minister and as president, said his party took the decision to leave parliament following the blocking by the prosecution of the bank accounts of TV channel A1 as well as daily newspapers VremeSpic and Koha e Re.

Crvenkovski rejected claims by centre-right Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski that TV channel A1 is guilty of fraud, ties with organised crime and tax evasion.

The opposition leader said Gruevski's only motivation had been to "hide its own criminal activity" and to silence the opposition in the media.

Crvenkovski said that his party SDSM was now "on the barricades".

The Vreme daily carried the headline 'Execution!' on its front page, writing that by moving to block the bank accounts of media firms, the government is "killing democracy".

An anonymous commentary piece released by press agency MINA, a media run by immigrants from Macedonia, asserts that the owner of A1, Velija Ramkovski, was untouchable for 18 years due to his friendship with Crvenkovski. A1 has never been audited, nor has it been visited by either the Tax Office or the Food Administration, despite overwhelming evidence that it was illegally producing food, drinks and even detergents in the same facility, MINA says.

It adds that A1 TV was "essential" for the SDSM party to return to power "via dark scenarios and destabilisation of the country".

A smaller party, New Democracy, which has four ethnic Albanian MPs, has also decided to leave parliament, according to press reports.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment, Natasha Butler, spokesperson for EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle, said the European Commission's position was that political debate should take place in the institutions that are designated for that purpose – meaning national parliaments.

She also said it was important for political players across party lines to find solutions that work for the country's EU integration and deliver on its broader European agenda. 

She said that this was something the Commission had been saying for the last 18 months regarding the parliamentary boycott in neighbouring Albania (see 'Background').

But she declined to comment on whether the parliamentary boycott in Albania may have had a contamination effect in Macedonia.

MEPs Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (Germany; ALDE) and Zoran Thaler (Slovenia; Socialists & Democrats) expressed their concern about recent developments in Skopje.

"We welcome the sending of European Union envoys to Skopje," they said, but lamented the lack of "a clear message from the government and prime minister in support of free, independent and also critical media. Political interference in the media is a serious source of concern".

The country is at a crossroads, they said, but expressed hope "that it will choose the right direction; the direction of democracy, EU membership, peace, stability and well-being of everyone in the country".

Macedonia is an ethnic mosaic with a sizeable Albanian minority. It received EU candidate status in December 2005.

However, up to now, the country has not been able to start accession talks because of its 'name dispute' with Greece. Athens insists that until the dispute is solved, the country should be called "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," or FYROM (for more, see EU-Macedonia relations LinksDossier).

Albania is a neighbour of Macedonia's with a sorry history of parliamentary boycotts. Albania submitted its application for EU membership in April 2009. However, since the poll was held on 28 June 2009, the ruling Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha and the Socialist Party of opposition leader Edi Rama have kept on accusing each other of fraud.

The Socialist Party, which controls nearly half the seats in parliament, proceeded to boycott the assembly for several months and thus block the passage of laws – many of which are needed to align the country with EU legislation (for more, see EURACTIV LinksDossier on EU-Albania relations).

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