Address by MFA Dimitrov at the 3rd Ministerial Meeting of Greece, Albania, Bulgaria and Macedonia

Thessaloniki, 4 May 2018

ND20180504OA 7351

MFA Dimitrov: We have here two candidate countries and two member states. I think I made one strategic mistake, we finalized our negotiations with Ekaterina (N.B. DPM and FM of Bulgaria, Ekaterina Zaharieva) too quickly. This Friendship Agreement was signed last year on the 1st of August, so I don’t see her that much anymore. But, in many ways what we have done with you Ekaterina (N.B. addressing to Ekaterina Zaharieva), what we are trying to do with you dear Nikos (N.B. addressing to FM Nikos Kotzias), the way we share information and coordinate deeply, it’s not a competition. Whenever I can I talk about him and his country because we firmly believe that we can be in a happy place, in a stable place, if the region is going in the same direction. I don’t think it is an overstatement if we share the sentiment of very positive movement in our region. We face external challenges, this is the first topic on our agenda, the developments in the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, the impact of these developments on the refugee migration inflow. Some days ago I had an address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and one member from a certain Central European country asked me if we will continue playing our role in terms of the Balkan route. And I said that we recognize how important this is, we also recognize how important is to help and to have solidarity with those countries who are on the front lines, including our Greek friends. So, I am really hopeful by what we have started and I think we have a historic opportunity to achieve this breakthrough. Ekaterina yesterday said people don’t quite understand what we do as Foreign Ministers. Ministers of Interior and Transport - they care about transport, moving people from point A to point B, facilitating contracts, providing security and order and law enforcement. But I think, if I judge by what we have achieved with Ekaterina, the political atmosphere actually creates and has a really direct impact on all of this.

Even before our Friendship Treaty came into force, it created, it changed, fundamentally how we see each other, and also our people. So, now we have increased trade with Bulgaria, I haven’t checked the last figures, but it is at least 11% of an increase. Tourism has also jumped. And interests of business people to work together and invest in our respective economies doubled. So, I think if we manage to do what we want to do, and to again misuse your words (N.B. addressing to Nikos Kotzias) from the interview - the universe to be replaced with everybody -  the universe knows we want to do this, if we manage, this will have a fundamentally profound impact on the two public opinions, on the citizens, and instead of prejudices and stereotypes we are going to see opportunities in our daily lives, contacts in all spheres. This should be the future of our region and it’s time for us to show to our friends further towards West, the older members states of the EU, older member states of NATO, that we can actually get our act together, and do things in our region.

There is nothing more natural, than the two member states - our neighbors- to be our biggest supporters. This is the way it should be. And I think on the other side of that line, we will see a group of countries that will, almost without exception, share geopolitical interests, security interests, economic interests etc. So it is a hopeful moment. This is the way we see it.

I’m very happy with the assessment of the Commission. Very positive progress in the nine areas that the Commission puts under the spotlight with this last upgraded methodology of reporting on progress – mostly rule of law issues, democracy, freedom of expression. We have made good progress in five of them and some progress in four of them. In many ways I think thanks to our citizens but also the leadership of our Prime Minister, we have managed to make a U-turn in these 11 months. Not only in what we do at home, but also what we do with our neighbors. This has been recognized and I think we really have an opportunity; we have to convince, with your help, the more skeptical Member States that this is only the start of the journey. I hear in Brussels and some European capitals that the Sofia Summit should not be an enlargement summit. And we all know that we will not have major political decisions in Sofia. There won’t be invitations. But I think, and I also want to thank both of you and the European institutions for having at least the reference to the European perspective in the Thessaloniki Declaration, this paragraph 2 of the draft declaration is very positive. We have to have that. It’s for our citizens, it’s to encourage the positive politics that we are trying to do both at home and regionally, that we all know that we don’t really have political decisions in Sofia.

The decisions will be for you, the Foreign Ministers (in late June) and for the leaders at the European Summit, the European Council (on 27 -28th of June) and if we have positive decisions, this will only be the start of the journey, for both of us. We know that we will not join tomorrow, we know that our countries will stay the same if we join tomorrow, so the process of accession talks which is essentially the best reform tool that we have available, it is about to start the journey. Whether we are going to be able to catch up with the friends from Podgorica and Belgrade is going to be up to us, but we need to have the possibility.

I’m going to do my best, I know we in the Government we will do our best to have enough reasons and progress for Nikos (N.B. FM Nikos Kotzias) and the Greek government to join this consensus and not only to join this consensus reluctantly, but to be able to convince others that this is a good thing. This is what we need to do. We have learned important lessons in our own crisis, we have a very firm determination to make it and we owe it to our citizens and to the next generation. So I think if we work the way we started, things are possible. We can convince others, we have some closer friends, Ditmir has others, so if we join forces we can do big things. I would like to endorse this tradition, this is our third meeting in this format, my second, but overall the third meeting. We don’t mind meeting always in Thessaloniki, but we also don’t mind moving to other beautiful cities in the region, we need good roads to come here, so we need to work on the connectivity between Tirana and Thessaloniki. We have a new portion of the highway, the “Friendship” highway. Christos (N.B. MITN of Greece, Christos Spirtzis) was there some days ago for the opening and this was my first experience. I think it cuts about 25 to 30 minutes from the journey so I don’t complain. And I also endorse your ideas about having a more focused, not only between Governments and Ministers, both the Directorates following the Middle East and the bigger region from the Foreign Ministries, I also endorse including civil society and academia because countries are the people and the institutions are also the people working for them and representing them. I know from this experience how important is to have a personal connection. So the more we have Universities, civil society, I think journalists as well, the easier is going to be to move the relationship forward. I will stop here and I will again thank you for the hospitality, for organizing this and maybe we can have more than one address, depending on the discussion, maybe I will ask for the floor one more time. Thank you so much.