Skopje, 16 January 2015

 

 

poposki 4

We entered 2015 with a baggage of blockades and without realizing the sixth EC recommendation for opening negotiations between the EU and Macedonia. What can Macedonia expect in this area in 2015?

Based on what has been concluded and discussed thus far with the new composition of the Commission, my opinion is that this year we will surely have de facto negotiations, i.e. we will review all the Chapters relevant for our EU membership. In essence this can come in different forms - formal opening of negotiations, starting the screening process and leading formal dialogue on all of the chapters as negotiations or this can be lead in the form of dialogue which we have established with the EC. Whatever the case, this year will be focused on those reforms that form the base for evaluating our preparedness for EU membership. 

poposki 3

The European Commissioner for neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations, Johannes Hahn is expected to visit this month. He has recently stated that giving recommendations to Macedonia without finalizing them has been proven ineffective. What are the expectations of his engagement aside from re-activating HLAD?

Commissioner Hahn's remarks are essentially in line with what Macedonia has been pointing out several years back that the imposed blockade by Greece which led to the failure to formally open negotiations and the lack of solution, i.e. lack of focus on overcoming the imposed name dispute is failing to provide results. This is the starting, inherited position of this Commission and on top of trying to use the High Level Accession Dialogue as the format for leading de facto negotiations, the Commission will also certainly try to entice interest in Greece to remove the formal blockade imposed on Macedonia. The European Commission has no interest to continue giving recommendation and waiting to see whether Greece will at some point remove its veto in the European Council.

I believe that the climate that was created and the support from multiple EU member countries moves in a direction which will allow Commissioner Hahn to lead an effective dialogue with Macedonia which will bring us closer to membership, and will simultaneously create a climate in which Greece will have less reasons to look for excuses why it continues to block us. The formula must be changed in one way or another. The key is to have negotiations for EU membership and this will happen during 2015.

poposki 1

You are constantly visiting and meeting your counterparts and other high officials from countries across Europe and the world. What is your impression of the EU members' position regarding the Greek blockade on Macedonia's European integration and the justification of the unconditional solidarity of member countries despite the obvious fact that we are hostages of an irrational dispute?

In our case, solidarity comes down to the fact that other EU member countries will not leave the formal appearance that Greece is the only blockade, i.e. there will always have be a defined number of member countries which will take the position that Greece should not be only blocking factor. The question of who and to what extent is blocking us is irrelevant. The important thing is to overcome the current situation which has seen no progress in relation to the imposed name dispute, as well as a lack of progress in removing the blockade imposed by the Council. There are several reasons for this, three of which are probably most significant. One is that all EU member countries are preoccupied with their domestic issues since EU is pressed by economic difficulties from almost all sides.

The second reason is that, seen from the outside, the blockade imposed by Greece on Macedonia does not seem very dramatic. Greece has been blocking our accession negotiations for six years and in that time Macedonia has been regularly featured among the top five economies in terms of growth and we are a country with the largest number of pro-business reforms according to the World Bank. This means that from their perspective  the blockade by Greece is not such a dramatic development. The third reason is that Greece is actually facing a number of problems and EU member countries either sympathise with the situation in Greece or they fear the dramatic developments in Greece might have an adverse effect on the overall economy of the EU.

All of this means it is extremely difficult to change Greece's position, and Greece feels very comfortable within the Council to avoid dealing with the name dispute. On the other hand, I believe that in this period, especially during the following year, the majority of key decision makers in Europe have indicated that they are not ambivalent to the fact that international law is being broken in Macedonia's case and the failure to open accession negotiations is a violation of international law as it was determined by the International Court of Justice and Greece has no right to repeat its behaviour.

poposki 2

Progress on the name issue is lacking despite long-running negotiations with Greece. Do you believe that something needs to be changed in the negotiations' platform, format and the dynamics?

In practice the current approach is proven to be inefficient in the long run. The mediator himself has pointed this out and it has also been concluded by multiple observes of the process. The method, the intensity or other circumstances are not relevant. The main point is that one of the parties, namely the one that has imposed the name dispute, has no interest nor does it try to conceal its lack of interest in resolving the issue. Which means we are coming back to the point made by Samaras on several occasions that the best solution for Greece in relation to the name dispute is to delay solving the issue for as long as possible, hoping that the delay will cause some kind of destabilisation, problem or regional difficulties.

This, I believe, is not in the interest of Macedonia or the EU, and if we look closely it is also not in the interest of Greece itself, but this is one strategy that has been put into practice over the past several years under the veil that Greece faces big issues at home and with the excuse that the framework has been set under the Temporal agreement and the UN resolutions. On the other hand, however, precisely these are being violated since the Hague ruling clearly points out that the obligations are neither respected nor fulfilled. At this moment it is important for Macedonia to have the issue in the focus of those who can entice greater interest, i.e. the larger NATO and EU member countries and regardless of the outcome of developments in Greece it should not be forgotten that Macedonia needs to see credible progress after five years of being prepared to open negotiations so that we can enter the final phase before closing the negotiations and becoming a member of the EU.

Do you think that the presidential elections in Greece will change something in relation to the approach to solving the name dispute with Macedonia? Will the possible victory of SYRIZA have a positive influence on our situation?

In principle I think it is very difficult and tasteless to predict  the position of the future Greek government on this dispute. SYRIZA has been, in principle, a party that has not abused this issue as much to pursue its domestic political goals. But, in any case, I believe we cannot make any conclusions prior to the formation of a new government in Greece, regardless of its composition, whether it is from the left or the right, and we cannot say whether they will finally change their matrix that leaving this issue unsolved is in the best interest of Greece.

In my opinion, the best solution in this case would be to respect international law, i.e. to respect the undertaken responsibilities, i.e. to stop blocking Macedonia in accordance with these responsibilities so that the Temporal Agreement can advance logically on its European course. Whether this will be the position of the future Greek Government is left to be seen after the elections and I think we should not be too preoccupied with the developments in Greece, but with the climate that will be created and the preparedness from other stakeholders to prevent further delays and lack of interest on the part of Greece.

The heads of our consular diplomatic offices have recently received action recommendations for the current year. We have seen staff additions, non-resident ambassadors, but it seems that the emphasis is placed on economic diplomacy?

Yes, that is correct and I would say it is also very logical since you can be a part of EU and economy should still be a top priority. You can be outside the EU and again the economy is ranked highest on the list of priorities. So when it comes to Macedonia the focus will remain on economy, both at the moment and after joining the EU. We are after all a relatively small country and our foreign political priorities are limited to several strategic goals which are mainly related to European integrations. However, regardless of our status, economy will remain our top priority and we believe that diplomatic service can contribute the most in the long run by attracting investments for Macedonia, help create new jobs and open possibilities for export. In the following period we can expect an increase in the interest and our activities in this field.

Good-neighbourly relations are also part of the priorities. What steps will Macedonia take in this regard, joint government sessions, joint projects...?

Of course. I believe the logic of things dictates we should look to our immediate neighbourhood. That is why we say we will focus on our region. There are several reasons for this. The first one is that the outside world has always perceived us as a region. Very few key shareholders believe the countries from the region, even the larger ones, carry enough weight when taken separately and everyone perceives us as a group of countries. The better we connect to our neighbours, the better the climate will be, bringing better opportunities and probability for attracting interest from outside. This will also be significant for increasing the competitiveness because each of the countries from the region has a relatively small market on its own. It will be very significant if we have better infrastructure, more joint projects and if things simply are done in a more European manner.

In the end, every country from the region is destined to become part of the EU. Some of them are already members, others are yet to become and the best option for Macedonia, seen from our individual perspective, our best option, and our largest interest lies in the possibility to become part of that EU because we will improve our options for funds, more money will flow towards the country since we will have a more positive perception from outside and because we will increase our competitiveness and we will be able to trade freely and to develop are economic activities. That is why our primary focus will be placed on connecting Macedonia with our immediate and wider surroundings. Furthermore it is expected that the thematic sessions we have proposed to all neighbouring countries will largely be focused on infrastructure and economy.

You said we will be cooperating with all our neighbours. To what extent is this possible with Greece, as it takes two to tango?

That's true, but putting the name issue aside, I believe that our bilateral relations with Greece are probably one of the best and are certainly much better in comparison to the majority of countries both from our immediate and wider vicinity. If we take a look at the actual situation on the field, this is the best proof that the fabricated name dispute is imposed and artificial because things function very well in our surroundings. Cooperation with Greece, including the economic one is very good and there are numerous joint projects being realised at the moment.

The difficulty of course lies in this political aspect which is imposed and artificial, but in my opinion Macedonia has no interest to reflect this problem on other areas. Quite the contrary. I believe the best approach for us and the best way to prove the absurdity of this dispute is to prove how good our cooperation can be and how well we can function with everyone around us, including Greece.

What exactly is implied under the third priority - greater care for our emigrants around the globe?

The fact is that both in distant and recent past, a large number of our citizens are living outside of the Republic of Macedonia. However they remain part of Macedonia, and Macedonia remains a part of them. MFA has several ways to help them. One of these includes multiple projects which we hope to intensify this year involving lectures, cultural corners, Macedonian language classes, different cultural and art activities we can support and our emigrants' associations abroad at places with larger Macedonian communities.

The second is economy-related and involves using their contacts or enticing their interest in investing in Macedonia in order to establish their business and, in a manner, enhance connectivity. The third way is through the services provided and this year we will try to make those services available through the internet and from larger distances which will bring the services closer to our citizens abroad without them using too much effort.

Macedonia has assumed the CEI Presidency this year. What does this mean and what opportunities does this open for the affirmation of our interests?

CEI is one of the oldest regional initiatives and associations having practically all the countries from Central and Eastern Europe, from the Baltic all the way to the Mediterranean, as its members. That is why the following one-year period will be very important and will include more activities such as economic promotions and political summits with the participation of all those countries. Within this framework, since we are taking over the presidency from Austria, we have jointly prepared a fairly solid agenda for promoting our companies, but also for promoting Macedonia as a tourist destination.

Actually, each of these regional cooperation platforms offers good opportunities for promotion, and it is especially important for us to gain additional affirmation from most of these countries, to attract more tourists and to increase the business opportunities with the business communities from each of those countries. This year we assume the presidency. As I said, we will cooperate with Austria on a number of activities and I hope that by the end of the year we will have a much better position and visibility regarding economic subjects, tourists and political factors enabling us to prove that Macedonia is indeed mature enough to host such events and organizations, which, on the other hand, can additionally pave our way towards European integration.

Violeta Gerov