Interview of MFA Nikola Dimitrov for „Deutsche Welle“
Date: 7 september 2017
Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/2jVAa

 

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DW: We are joined here in the studio by Foreign Minister of Macedonia, Nikola Dimitrov. He is also a former negotiator in the ongoing name dispute. He is in Berlin for talks with the German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel. Now you’ve recently taken part in negotiations with your Greek counterpart about the name dispute. Are you going to finally be able to finalize an agreement?

Nikola Dimitrov: What we did last Wednesday, the Greek Minister Kotzias was in Skopje. We discussed Confidence Building Measures. We haven’t quite started the negotiations yet. They will start definitely before the end of the year. I do what I think the job of diplomats should be, which is resolve problems, open doors, and make friends and while we cannot really change history, we can certainly try to influence the future, and make life better for our citizens today. That’s our goal.

 DW: Let’s take a quick look at a statement you made recently during the recent meeting with your Greek counterpart, just last week. Let's take a listen.

Nikola Dimitrov: “We hope that Greece will recognize the new reality in Macedonia, and our honest wish for friendship. We expect and we hope for help and support for European integration”.

DW: According to that at least you do expect Athens to stop blocking your EU membership. Does that mean that you are prepared to compromise on the name issue?

Nikola Dimitrov: Essentially, the name dispute should not be an obstacle to our integration. We have an Interim agreement with Greece, which agreed not to object to our integration. We have a judgment of the International Court of Justice. But our goal is not to have a blame game. We believe that if are to be allies, because that is what it means, once we join NATO and the EU, Greece will be an ally, we are going to be an ally for Greece, so we have to do this through dialogue. It is high time in the region to be brave enough to exit the trenches of history and to compete perhaps in what is really important for the citizens, which is better healthcare, and education and more prosperity. This is the angle that we are trying to take.

 DW: What about your aspirations to join the EU and NATO. How important is that for Macedonia?

Nikola Dimitrov: It’s an absolute priority. We are a part of Europe geographically; we would like to be part of the EU and NATO as well. It’s an extremely important strategy for our stability. There are some issues that are still not fully resolved in the region and we would like to take Macedonia out of the puzzle of uncertainty and second we would like to be like most of the EU member states, we would like to have a society that is democratic and governed by the rule of law. With that, we believe more prosperity will come.  That is why we are doing our best to open that door and to deserve it.

 DW: Your country has been directly affected by the influx of refugees into Europe, in the last couple of years. I would like to talk about that with you in more detail. Thousands of migrants were left stranded there on the Balkan route, in refugee camps throughout the Balkans after the borders were closed. A number of these camps were on your borders. Where are those refugees today?

Nikola Dimitrov: Some of them have been relocated from Greece to other EU member states. I think definitely about over 14,000 thousand people. Some of them are sheltered in Greece, and I think the UNHCR is doing a great job funded by the European Union in Greece to help these people

DW: Now, we are still hearing stories of people resorting to desperate measures, to continue out through the Balkan route, through Macedonia, to get to Western Europe, often with the help of human traffickers. What is Macedonia doing to protect those people?

Nikola Dimitrov: We are doing our best. We have an active Police cooperation with our neighbors, including Greece, with the EU. What’s important to understand here is that those photos, those clips, show an exceptionally difficult year of 2015. We had only in February, 2016 about 60,000 people coming from Turkey to Greece. A month later, the Turkish-EU deal was reached. Ever since then, we have less than 40,000 for the whole year. So, everyone could have done better, including my country, but definitely including the world, including Europe, including Greece. We have to take the lessons from that and we have to focus on helping those refugees that are in Turkey, I think the Turkish-EU deal is very important. What we can do in terms of protecting our borders, is also important. But we have to take into account that the external border of the EU is not between Macedonia and Greece, but it is between Greece and Turkey.

DW: You mentioned the EU-Turkey deal as being so important. EU-Turkish relations are coming unraveled right now. Some are wondering whether the Balkan route, could open again, that the EU-Turkey deal involves keeping refugees basically in its country, and preventing them from coming up through the Balkan route. Are you expecting that the Balkan route could open again?

Nikola Dimitrov: I think we need to do whatever is necessary to keep it closed, because we all, including the refugees, have an interest in having an organized assistance and fight illegal migration. What’s really important is for the EU to continue to support Turkey financially; they have millions of refugees in their country. It’s also important to continue to help Greece and to do this in a way that is in line with solidarity, in line with where we would like to see this issue going.

DW: You mentioned solidarity. The EU’s highest court just said that the quote system for refugees, for the distribution of refugees in Europe is valid and can be enforced. If Macedonia becomes part of the European Union, would it agree to accept refugees?

Nikola Dimitrov: It is going to be in the interest of the Macedonian citizens first of all to join the EU, and once there we will be definitely ready to share the burden. But, we need to get there first.