June 11, 2015 / 5:16 PM / 5 years ago

EU disappointed over breakdown in Macedonia talks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A senior European Union official criticised Macedonian political leaders on Thursday after talks to end a crisis there broke down over a plan for a transitional government to prepare the ground for elections.

“Very disappointed about lack of responsibility and leadership by some,” EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said on Twitter after chairing 12 hours of talks between leaders of Macedonia’s four main political parties that ended shortly before midnight on Wednesday.

The talks failed to produce a final agreement to end months of political turmoil triggered by damaging wiretap disclosures against the government. The crisis has raised fears of instability in a country that flirted with civil war in 2001.

“Citizens deserve better: Democracy, the rule of law, and a European future,” Hahn said.

The Macedonian political leaders met in Brussels to try to flesh out the details of a June 2 agreement to hold early elections in the Balkan country by the end of April 2016.

One of the opposition’s main demands has been the formation of a transitional government to prepare for the vote.

Under a compromise proposal discussed in Wednesday’s talks, a new deputy prime minister, a high-profile figure proposed by the opposition, would be appointed to organise the election, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

The current deputy prime minister would be in charge of pushing through reforms of party financing and in other areas.

When the time was right, parliament would dissolve and call elections within 60 days. Conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, in power for the last nine years, would then resign before the election.

While the government could accept the compromise, it was rejected by the opposition, which demands Gruevski’s immediate resignation.

Macedonia’s bids to join the EU and NATO have been blocked for years by a dispute with neighbouring Greece over Macedonia’s name. The crisis could call into question the European Commission’s longstanding support for the EU to open membership talks with Skopje.

Gruevski has been under pressure since January over wiretap disclosures released by opposition leader Zoran Zaev, who says they were collected illegally by the government, targeting 20,000 political figures, journalists and judges, foes and allies alike.

The government says the tapes were made by a foreign spy service working with Zaev to bring down the government.

Under the previously confidential June 2 agreement, a text of which was seen by Reuters, Zaev’s Social Democratic party would chair a parliamentary committee of inquiry into the wiretap scandal.

The opposition would also chair committees looking into failings in the oversight of the intelligence services, reporting on their findings by November.

By the end of September, the State Elections Commission would get enhanced powers to ensure free and fair elections.

Editing by Tom Heneghan

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