Interview with DPM and FM Nikola Poposki for Die Presse

Journalist: Wieland Schneider

Date: 15 November 2016

Poposki Die prese

 

EU needs the refuge deal with Turkey
Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki hopes that the EU refugee deal with Ankara will last. He called for opening accession talks with Macedonia.

Die Presse: The relationship between the EU and Turkey has deteriorated as a result of the massive measured taken by the Turkish leadership's against the opposition. Is Macedonia concerned that the EU refugee deal with Ankara could fail?

Nikola Poposki: We have not yet reached the termination point of the agreement, since Turkey needs allies. And the EU – above all Germany – needs this deal so as to prevent the situation we had last year. The fact is that no one can afford to take in so many refugees, especially Germany, who is facing elections in 2017. I don’t think there is anyone who would seriously want to jeopardize the EU-Turkey deal.

Die Presse: Wouldn’t Turkey terminate the deal out of anger if the EU sends harsher criticism their way?

Nikola Poposki: As I said above: I do not believe this is likely to happen now. There is a legitimate expectation in Turkey in terms of receiving EU’s assistance. Turkey has absorbed 2.5 million refugees. We can register the arrival of refugees on our border. And the lower number of refugees shows that Turkey is doing something.

Die Presse: What is the number of refugees at the moment?

Nikola Poposki: We register 20 to 50 illegal border crossings per day. More than 30,000 people have tried to illegally cross the border from Greece to Macedonia since the beginning of the year. But most of them were intercepted - in cooperation with Greek border authorities. The number is much lower than the one we had the previous year. We had days when 40,000 people crossed the border. But we should be aware that this crisis is not over yet. I would not rule out the possibility that people will again try to use the Balkan route. At least at this moment.

Die Presse: What would that mean for Macedonia?

Nikola Poposki: We have shown that we can prevent massive border crossings in cooperation with Greece. In 2015, Greece measured its success with the number of refugees that continued from Greece to Macedonia. Now the situation is different: the cooperation at the level of border officials is very good.

Die Presse: There is Austrian police working on Macedonia's border. Should more police officers or soldiers come?

Nikola Poposki: It would be desirable to coordinate those numbers with the number of arriving refugees. If the situation remains as it is, the help we have now is sufficient. If not, we will need more policemen, night vision equipment and additional equipment.

Die Presse: Macedonia is working closely with EU countries on refugee issues. At the same time, the country is still firmly on the road to EU membership.

Nikola Poposki: We have just received the EU Commission's eighth recommendation to open accession negotiations. We received the first one in 2009. The European Council made a serious mistake at that time when it didn’t follow through on this recommendation. But Greece was the one who demanded a postponement of the accession talks. The Council believed that this postponement will be brief and that the name dispute will be quickly resolved.

Die Presse: Athens does not recognize Macedonia by its state name. Are there any signs that the dispute could finally be solved?

Nikola Poposki: Last year, we introduced confidence-building measures with Greece. This gives a completely new standard for our bilateral relations. There hasn’t been a period of such intensified cooperation with Greece ever since Macedonia’s independence.

Die Presse: So you hope that Greece will soon give up the blockade in the EU against Macedonia?

Nikola Poposki: It would be too optimistic to say that we know when exactly this will happen. But the atmosphere has changed and that is a good prerequisite for it.

Die Presse: The new EU Progress Report on Macedonia also contains critical points such as corruption and the influence on the judiciary.

Nikola Poposki: There are some critical points out problems existing in all the countries in our region, whether they are in the EU or not. The rule of law and the efficiency of the administration are two points where we have to deliver. This is true for Macedonia as well as for Serbia, Montenegro and Albania. The greatest progress will be made during the EU accession talks. So the biggest mistake of all was to delay the start of negotiations with Macedonia for eight years.