Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Poposki for the “Radio Free Europe”

13 November 2015 

Radio Free Europe

 

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Radio Free Europe: Minister Poposki, you are here in Prague for a meeting of the Visegrad Group with the Western Balkan countries. One of the main topics is the formation of some sort of a fund for the Western Balkan countries. Who will participate in this fund, how much funds are we talking about and how will those funds be distributed?

Nikola Poposki: The idea is to do something that has already been done in the Visegrad group. The initial amounts will be more symbolic amounts of several tens of thousands of Euros, contributed by the six countries of the Western Balkans that are candidates and potential candidates for EU membership. Projects for cross-border cooperation will be financed. The idea is to show that we have achieved a level of solidarity necessary for us, with our own means to create a fund, whose resources shall be used to finance a better linking of the region. There are two benefits. One is that our citizens will be able to undertake projects funded by the countries in the region which will link us together. The second is sending a clear signal to Europe that we have arrived to the level of maturity, to view the region as a common interest.

Radio Free Europe: Is this related in any way to the migrant crisis?

Nikola Poposki: No, this is not related to the migrant crisis and it is something that we have been planning even before the crisis became evident. This is the completion of the legal part of the establishment of the fund, and the projects will start very soon and the idea would be to stimulate scholarships, to implement projects in the field of the environment, education and for these projects to always have a cross-border component.

Radio Free Europe: Some countries are implementing stricter border controls because the migrant crisis. Could it happen that the incoming migrants remain in Serbia or Macedonia? Won’t we need some additional efforts, possibly a greater control of our borders?

Nikola Poposki: This is most definitely necessary, above all in the countries where migrants are headed, particularly Germany. The pressure has increased because a there is a greater number of people arriving there. At the same time the proportion has also changed, since there has been much more people arriving that do not come from Syria, which would be related to the fact that it is not always people fleeing military actions, but that much of it is about economic migration, which does not mean that it isn’t a problem, but that it is a different type of problem. From our side it will require a lot more effort to complete the registration of all migrants entering the Republic of Macedonia, because each migrant who comes here ends up in one of the Western European countries, which in turn means that we shall have to reduce illegal crossings to a minimum and have full records of all entrances. From that point of view we shall have to step up measures to control and somehow physically enable entrance in the Republic of Macedonia through checkpoints. So far it has been difficult to achieve this, because we have 8,000 people entering in one day and that is physically impossible to do. I think that the risk that we have to evade is a gradual closure, or decrease of transit to northern European countries, when there is a constant stream of inflow coming from Greece to Macedonia. This is a risk which is real.

Radio Free Europe: During the presentation of the progress report on the candidate countries, the EU Commissioner Hahn praised Serbia and Macedonia for dealing with migrant crisis, but regarding Macedonia he had serious criticism for many areas in the Macedonian society. For the first time we practically got a conditional recommendation. Is this not a kind of a defeat for the Macedonian diplomacy?

Nikola Poposki: I wouldn’t agree with this because I believe that there is a lot more attention dedicated to assessing the areas which are crucial to the European Union, above all the rule of law. And this is not an exception regarding the other countries. If you look at the reports of other countries you will see that the focus is exactly in these areas. For us, the biggest handicap and the thing that attracted the greatest attention is the internal political crisis that I hope we are on the path of surpassing with the decisions agreed between the political parties. I believe that we are now in a stage, where after six years and for the seventh year in a row, we have received a new recommendation by the European commission, which is the most important element, and where the important thing is not if a country has received “this” or “that kind” of a recommendation, but whether it “has” or “hasn’t” received a recommendation. The question that we have to ask ourselves is how realistically can a country, that has received its first recommendation in 2009, remain on the same path, having in mind that no Council in the past six year has made the decision to support such a decision for commencement of negotiations. Would Macedonia be in this situation, had we commenced negotiations in 2009, is a legitimate question that we can ask.

Radio Free Europe: Yes, but this time the report included the content of the illegally intercepted communication. It has been taken into consideration. There was also information that the communications of certain ambassadors have also been intercepted. Did you receive some type of reaction, formal or not formal, from ambassadors in Macedonia?

Nikola Poposki: There were indications that allegedly the person that possessed such illegally acquired materials, shared them with a number of diplomats. This could not be handled outside the obligations arising under the Vienna Convention for diplomats and for the Republic of Macedonia, but in any case this is a much broader aspect for which we have a legal framework and institutions that should investigate it and come to conclusions. I think it would be extremely improper for us to speculate on such a sensitive topic on which we have a defined framework where it should be handled.

Radio Free Europe: There is also information that some influential EU member countries, which have so far strongly supported Macedonia, seem somehow restrained and, to put this in a diplomatic manner, are not quite enthusiastic about the integration of Macedonia in the EU?

Nikola Poposki: Yes, such speculation existed. From what we have gathered in communication with all EU countries at different levels, there is no such movement. None of the countries that had previously supported us consider that Macedonia should not negotiate, but the fact is that it is very difficult for them to commit to negotiations with Macedonia in such conditions of internal political problems. It should be our top priority to exit this spiral of internal confrontations as soon as possible, so that we can help those supporting us at the European front, to come out demanding that it is necessary for Macedonia to start the negotiations so that we do not repeat this type of crisis in the future.

Radio Free Europe: Are the Macedonian diplomatic corps successful in convincing them that Macedonia is capable to exit the political crisis and to stabilize the political field?

Nikola Poposki: I think that in many occasions we have shown that we are much more resilient and more resourceful than expected. Macedonia was constantly being kept hostage in some sort of a situation, primarily due to the blockade that had been imposed on our Euro-Atlantic integration processes, and even before that, but in each of these situations, no matter how high the level of concern, Macedonia has always come out a bit stronger than it was previously. I think in this case we can expect such a development.

Radio Free Europe: When the affair with the intercepted communication first came out in the public and when there was all kinds of protests, anti-government, pro government, protests on what happened in Kumanovo..., there were a few harsh statements from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation for the first time in several years, and many of these statements had quite a lot of anti-Western overtones. How do you rate these statements? Is this not interfering in the internal affairs of Macedonia?

Nikola Poposki: I believe that there is only one effective way in which we can overcome our internal political confrontations, and this is by using our own strengths and dialogue within the country. There can be all sorts of attitudes, concerns and interests coming from abroad. But I think that for us, our own interest should be the key concern. Our interest is to integrate into the EU and NATO as soon as possible. It is our strategic interest and not a tactical manoeuvre to be performed within a week. It is a strategic interest for us to cast our anchor in the Euro-Atlantic family and on the basis of such a strategic interest we should make our moves on the inside, including the attempts to overcome a lack of internal cohesion. The political crisis is one such syndrome. We must not allow this field to foster further discord in the country, nor for it to defocus of our strategic objectives.

Radio Free Europe: Yes, the NATO membership that you just mentioned is also a strategic interest. At the summit in Bucharest in 2008, Macedonia received conditional invitation for it to become a member as soon as it resolves the name dispute. 8 years have passed since then. Now Macedonia is not even mentioned, and Montenegro is mentioned as the most serious candidate. Have we now acquired additional criteria, this time political, for the membership in NATO?

Nikola Poposki: The conclusion from Bucharest is still valid in NATO, according to what the member states of NATO and the organization say, and that means that Macedonia will become a NATO member as soon as the dispute with Greece is overcome. This conditionality has not changed. We have walked another parallel, slightly more difficult, path of legal argumentation and on this path we have received a very strong argument – the International Court of Justice's decision in 2008 – which deems a violation by Greece of the international legal obligations undertaken.

Radio Free Europe: Yes, but this decision didn’t really help the Republic of Macedonia.

Nikola Poposki: The response of that decision approximately went like this… Yes, you might be right, maybe international law is on your side, but the rule “whoever is stronger wins” always applies. This was the message that Greece sent to us and they have more or less succeeded to convince the rest of the international community. For us, on the one hand we can say that there is a certain level of difficulty that the principle of not disrupting the Interim Agreement is not respected. On the other hand, we have an interest, and that is to avoid the obstacle to our membership in the NATO and the EU, and I think that in the moment when we shall have to make decisions in this regard, the decision of the International Court of Justice will play its role.

Radio Free Europe: Nevertheless, we shall have to resolve the name dispute with Greece. The mediator Matthew Nimetz, has recently stated in an interview for “Ekathimerini” that now is the time for a solution. What does that mean ... Have there been any contacts or any developments in this area?

Nikola Poposki: Yes, it has been the right time for 20 years now. We have no dilemma in this regard. I believe that the sooner this happens, the better, at least from Macedonia’s perspective, because we can feel the consequences of this blockage. In this period, say the past few months, most of the energy was devoted to confidence building measures between the two countries. They were not directly focused on the name dispute, but would help to improve the climate of the two countries, whether in education, in the area of cross-border cooperation, in terms of the economy, and we do need a certain level of cooperation with Greece which we do not have.

Radio Free Europe: These were set out in some sort of agreement with 10 points of special confidence building measures. From then till now, have any of these been realized?

Nikola Poposki: There were meetings of the working groups, and some of them are in the process of implementation. For example, the political consultations between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the possibility of granting scholarships in both countries for Greek students in Macedonia and the Macedonian students in Greece, the connection with the border police services in relation to the migrant crisis and several others. Not all of them, but let's say, points 11, 5 and 6 are in the implementation phase. It's about, as I said, measures that will not resolve the name dispute, but which will somehow raise the relatively low political level of confidence that we have between the two countries.