SKOPJE, MACEDONIA - The European Union's enlargement commissioner on Thursday urged Macedonia's political parties to agree quickly on the formation of a new government and end the Balkan country's long-running political crisis.
The turmoil, triggered by a surveillance scandal in 2015, has threatened to destabilize a country that hopes to join NATO and is among several candidates to join the EU.
Neither the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party nor the Social Democrats emerged from a December election with a big enough majority to form a government without the support of ethnic Albanians.
In late January, coalition talks between the VMRO-DPMNE, which won the largest share of votes in the election, and the ethnic Albanian DUI party collapsed. The Social Democrats say they should now be given a chance.
"The earlier there is a government in place, the better it is," Johannes Hahn, EU commissioner for European neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations, told reporters in the Macedonian capital, Skopje. "There is no further time to waste."
Hahn said it was "important that the new government is built on a solid basis." The commissioner was due to meet leaders of the main political parties later Thursday.
The crisis is Macedonia's worst since Western diplomacy hauled the country from the brink of civil war during an ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001, promising it a path to membership in the EU and NATO. Both have stalled because of a dispute with neighboring Greece over Macedonia's name.
In their negotiations with the VMRO-DPMNE, the DUI party sought the recognition of Albanian as Macedonia's second official language. They also demanded an extension to the mandate of a special prosecutor investigating allegations of government corruption, vote rigging and abuse of power during the VMRO-DPMNE's 2006-16 tenure in power.
Last week, the VMRO-DPMNE called for fresh elections.