I actually signed the Vilnius Statement back in 2000 and we are the last country that is finally about to join, so this has been a long overdue. We promised then that we will in solidarity help each other to make Europe whole and free and finally I think we are close to that line of certainty.

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For us this is essentially one of the two goals since our independence in ‘91. In ‘93 the Parliament said we all together, consensually, we would like to be part of the Alliance, we have 84 percent of our public opinion in support of this strategic direction, so it really feels special that after all these years, first of all this is unfinished business, it’s good to finish business and I feel privileged to have a finger in making sure that the next generation will have a more reliable, more stable, more predictable country. So we extend the zone of stability in a region that still needs more stability. So, it’s very special to be part of this process and to build friendship with our neighbours, I don’t think there is a more natural state of play than to have the biggest support coming from your neighbours. And as Jens said to the joint session of Congress today, “It is good to have friends”. So what we did is by understanding each other covering the basic interest concerns of the other and respecting the other, we managed to overcome this issue in a way that now we are in the same boat. And we would like to have a great neighbour and I think they would like to have a prosperous neighbour as well, so this was not easy and it took leaderships of the two PMs to think more about the next generation and less about the next elections.

We think that strength is about how strong your military is, how strong your economy is but also how many friends you have, how close those friends are, and how willing are they to engage when you need them in times of need. So I think even as a non-NATO member, as a country, as a partner-country we’ve been part of the burden they are sharing throughout these years in Afghanistan we were at one point the 4th per-capita contributing nation, so we carried more than our weight and I think that willingness to be a part of a collective effort is what matters. Then not to forget that the first ever intervention of the Alliance was actually in our region in 1999 and we provided logistics support for that intervention and what we make in making North Macedonia more stable is we extend zone of stability in a region that caused NATO to intervene in ‘99. It will have a calming influence in our neighbourhood. Back in Bucharest we had a defence spending of over 2 percent of our GDP, then our previous leadership lost its compass and they essentially used, Giorgos talked about nationalism, I call it shallow nationalism that is usually self-defeating exactly on the national interest it purports to defend and then promote so it dropped and now we are committed to bringing it back over 2 % and also making sure that how we spend is worthwhile for the Alliance. We talked aboutthe Vilnius Statement; it’s also an uncompleted story. And I think the enthusiasm I see in the Senate is fully bipartisan and enthusiasm among many allies and 29 is actually a less stable number than 30.

This, as I said, this is about our people and I am actually offended when some countries or analysts they say that we are doing someone else’s agenda. This is about making our own country more stable in the company of the countries that care about the individual liberties, about rule of law, and about democratic institutions. That’s also strength. How democratic and how functional checks and balances are and institutions are, judiciaryindependence, media freedoms so we do this for ourselves, we have the full support of the people. 84 per cent of our citizens support us joining NATO and while back in 2008 for instance this was not quite an issue for Moscow it is not a secret that we have had a steady stream of press releases, public statements coming from Moscow saying against the agreement, that this was not, you know all kinds of criticism. I tell them openly, I speak this publicly and also behind the scenes this is good for the stability of the region, it is our decision and at some point, we all, it’s going to be a question of leadership and time, we need to talk to each other. And we, the Alliance, as the next 30th member state I am hoping that I am going to have that right by December this year to speak also on behalf of the Alliance, and this understanding will have to be, of course, based on some important principles of international law but we have to engage. And even if we don’t improve the relationship we stillneed to talk. So I am going to also mention only one point on the referendum campaign. We don’t know where this came from. But I learned this word from digital experts; we’ve had a lot of non-genuine internet traffic in the social media. And the perception in the bubble of the social media there was a huge gap between reality on the streets in terms of protests etc. and the tension and the boycott camp and the euphoria against the agreement in the social media.

So this we noticed, with some new political players, with some Russian flags protesting against the agreement, they are very marginal so this is what we’ve seen. But we know where we’re going, the direction is there and we are moving in that direction and this is good. Stability is good for the Balkans, it’s good for Europe and we will continue to convince everyone that this is a good thing.

I think, party responding, but I will definitely go directly to that question as well. I think what we bring we have a fresh view of a country that is about to enter. And we know that outside is cold. And you feel lonely, you walk alone. So I think people, countries on the inside there is complacency, because being there for so many years you forgot how cold it is on the outside. This enthusiasm I think we would like to spread also among founding members. And connected to the question of migration, we had the war in Syria that we couldn’t deal with properly. We, the world. And this, I was then based in the Netherlands, and the sense was that this is far and it won’t affect us. And then the migration crisis exploded in 2015/2016. So the world, our world, is getting smaller and is more interconnected and requires more joint action. And the responsibility is shared on all of these fronts, the root causes, and we don’t have the luxury of not dealing with problems. We need to face problems, invest, if we need to invest more defence spending, because we need strength to have peace and do things. I don’t think we are very experienced in waiting now. We’ve had 18 MEP cycles as a county in preparation. I don’t think we will take this finally crossing the line, getting in the membership for granted. And the actual goal is not to become a formal member. The actual goal is to be a country that has strong functional democratic institutions, that is a reliable, predictable partner, so that Athens, Washington D.C., Berlin can reach out to us and say we need you here and there in the region, beyond the region, this is the goal, it’s not the formal, but it will help to finally get some benefits out of the burden sharing as well. It’s a two-way street, of course.