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Opinion: EU should introduce sanctions to Macedonia’s President Ivanov

Gjorge Ivanov © European Union , 2015 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service / Photo: Lieven Creemers

SKOPJE – If the EU wants to be taken seriously and reclaim some of the lost credibility in the Western Balkans, it must make a tough and somewhat shocking move and introduce sanctions for Macedonia’s President Ivanov.

Sanctions are a tool for realizing the objectives set in the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union. The Treaty on European Union defines the over-arching goals of the EU towards external actors, and “consolidate and support democracy” is pretty high on that list. Given the latest developments in Macedonia, there is absolutely no argument left that President Ivanov might not be wreaking havoc on the fragile democracy of the Republic of Macedonia.

After the elections last year in December, the President awarded the mandate to the party with the highest number of MPs, VMRO DPMNE. This is a common practice in Macedonia, even though the Constitution doesn’t strictly instruct for it. Instead, the Constitution stipulates that the President awards the mandate to the leader of the party that has a majority in Parliament. With VMRO DPMNE winning 51 seats and the Social Democrats 49 out of 120 seats, no one had a majority without the smaller parties.

VMRO DPMNE failed to secure a majority within the constitutional time limitations, and had to return the mandate. The President of the Social Democrats, Mr Zaev, went and asked President Ivanov for the mandate. President Ivanov told him to go and come back with the signatures of majority of MPs, and only then he would be awarded the mandate, a demand that was not made to VMRO DPMNE and that is nowhere to be found in the Constitution.

Zaev returned with 67 signatures (out of 120), and President Ivanov refused to give him the mandate. The excuse was the supposed acceptance of a political platform signed in Tirana by the smaller political parties with an ethnic Albanian denomination. However, even though these parties confirmed that Gruevski and VMRO DPMNE had accepted all the conditions of the Tirana platform well before the Social Democrats even discussed them, it never stopped President Ivanov from awarding the mandate to Gruevski.

So, after months of painful political limbo, Macedonia is without a government, with a series of protests orchestrated by VMRO DPMNE to supposedly “protect” Macedonia and with local elections right behind the corner. The hate speech has escalated to such a level that individual hate incidents take place almost on a daily basis. Journalists, professors, MPs are being virtually, verbally and even physically attacked. The last in a line of incidents is the attack on the driver of a Turkish diplomat who tried to stop the removal of a Turkish flag from the car. As always, the perpetrators of hate crimes make no sense at all.

President Ivanov has disrespected and intentionally disrupted one of the basic principles of democracy, the peaceful transfer of power. By doing this, he has acted in violation with the Constitution and has pushed the country to the brink of a serious security danger. The EU must act decisively and impose sanctions on his movement and freeze his personal funds.

There is a precedent for this. In 2011, the EU adopted a Decision for sanctions on any individuals who violate the Constitution or threaten the security situation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Decision had an expiry date in 2016, and was prolonged until 31st of March, 2017.

The crisis in Macedonia of the past two years has proven, over and over again that Macedonia’s institutions and system are not capable of fighting the cancerous cells. Even though the Constitution and laws are not officially suspended, they are breached by the President, the number one person in the country who is supposed to uphold them.

Imposing sanctions on Ivanov will not send a message to Macedonia only. There are dangerous tendencies brewing in the region, and the EU needs to set an example in Macedonia for everyone else.

Serbia is in the middle of an election where Prime Minister Vucic is one of the candidates for President. According to the Constitution of Serbia, the President proposes a candidate for President of the Government to the Assembly, after having heard the opinion of all those whose electoral lists were elected. If the EU doesn’t act decisively now and given Vucic’s growing influence on media, who can guarantee Serbia won’t repeat Macedonia’s scenario?

At the same time, the EU needs to retrieve its status of a player in the Western Balkans, after so many failures. The EU granted Macedonia recommendations for start of negotiations for years while VMRO DPMNE ruled and captured every single institution of the Republic. The EU failed to induce constitutional changes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite the decision of the European Court for Human Rights and the empty ultimatums by the EU. If the EU wants to continue to have a say in the Western Balkans, it needs to step up its game.

Finally, as a Macedonian, this is one of the morally most-difficult arguments I’ve had to make. Arguing for international sanctions on your President is anything but a straight case. But, what is true for individuals, can be applied to countries as well. If we love them, we must help them fight the disease, even when the medication is painful.

President Ivanov is a disease to democracy in Macedonia.

Ivana Jordanovska, democracy activist, BA from Institute d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, European federalist


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