Poposki: Germany wants to solve the name dispute

 

The situation with the name issue is still unchanged, said Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki in an interview with Deutsche Welle, adding that German diplomacy wants to settle the dispute, but Athens remains silent. In less than two weeks prior to the Conference of the Western Balkans States in Berlin, hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia, Nikola Poposki in an interview with DW answers questions related to the solving the name dispute, involvement and support of Germany in this process, as well as to the relations of Macedonia with Bulgaria and Albania.

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DW: Certain media in Macedonia announced that this month there is a possibility for organizing meeting between the Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia, Nikola Gruevski. Some even went so far and wrote that Gruevski will accept change of the name, but in return he would require Merkel not to tackle the identity issue. As head of the Macedonian diplomacy, what is your position for these assumptions?

Poposki: I would like not to comment on any speculations or assumptions. What I would like to say and what is based on facts is that Germany wants to send a signal that it wants to be present in the region, that the region has a future in the European Union and that it is likely to be a process that will last several years. It is the idea of the engagement of the Chancellor Merkel for upcoming summit of the Prime Ministers from the region, which will have political and economic component. Political component in the part “Yes, you have a guaranteed future in the EU, but it will take some time” and economic component in which we will be suggested meanwhile to work on improving the infrastructure and increasing the competitiveness in the region. If there is no economic development the political integration would make no sense. That is going to happen. In relation to the commitment of Germany for the Republic of Macedonia, it has been said so far that Germany is interested to move the integration process, because the Chancellor Merkel and the German diplomacy are certain that the continuation of the status-quo for Macedonia with unfounded and legally unjustified postponement of the negotiations for accession to EU and NATO is not providing good results for the entire region. So, the German diplomacy wants such situation to be resolved and they are aware that the main problem is the blockade from Greece. Germany would also like to see a solution, but in no way it would like to pay the price of increased unpopularity or open confrontation with Greece regarding this issue. For previous direct meeting Merkel – Gruevski I could not say anything, because that are ongoing activities, but it is matter of fact that at the end of the month a summit will take place in Berlin with Merkel and the Prime Ministers from the whole region, and the Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski will be part of it.

DW: Do you think that Germany will actively participate in solving the name dispute?

Poposki: I remind that Greece informed all partners loud and clear that its current government does not intend to deal with resolving the name dispute, because it thinks that Greece has very difficult internal problems and believes that in the next period it has to fulfill several other criteria which are quite unpopular, carry weight and from that aspect it does not feel that it has political force to deal with other external-political issues, including the name issue. That is the political calculation in Athens in terms of resolving the dispute. That is also clear for Germany and for other states more adept in this dispute and from that point of view their influence for moving the issue is limited. What is important for us is that the situation of postponement without greater focus shall not persist. But we should concentrate our energy on what we can do at home, and that are the reforms and the economic development. Here is also the infrastructure issue and Germany could help us by the European funds and various bilateral programs in order to encourage the economic development in the region, and thus in Macedonia. And our energy should be devoted to this area because we have a greater influence. Our influence is not enough to make Athens, which does not intend to deal with this issue, to begin to deal with it. That will have to do those countries that have greater influence.

DW: How do the Ministry and the Government interprets the last statement of the Chancellor Merkel related to Macedonia and that she is looking forward to find a solution to the name issue?

Poposki: We have an open and permanent communication and it is also clear in Berlin that without greater involvement by larger member states of the EU and NATO, Greece has no interest in resolving the name issue. Greek approach is to postpone process of solving the issue and let the future government and the mandates to deal with this issue, by using the argument that they are in difficult situation now and that it absorbs all their energy.

DW: But is that reason for Macedonia to be isolated?

Poposki: I cannot speak about isolation because it is a clear position of the government in Athens. But on the other hand no one feels comfortable enough to make greater and more open engagement to encourage Athens to change its position.

DW: The mediator Matthew Nimetz visited the region. Europe is trying to make a move through Germany in the dispute. Is it possible to simultaneously resolve the dispute through the UN and the EU?

Poposki: Overcoming the name dispute is a question of motivation in both capitals. For us the motivation is clear, we have no better alternative except accession to the EU and NATO. It is the path that we have chosen and we have to go there. On that path we are facing with unprincipled blockade of Greece and we look for ways to solve it. There is no motivation in Athens. That is the reality. The last visit of the mediator Nimetz was another attempt to hear the positions and to communicate. But if there is no motive on the same level on both sides, solution cannot be found. In this case the motive of Greece is completely absent. It is quite clear for the mediator Nimetz and the EU member-states that monitor the process on both sides.

DW: Does the Summit in Berlin mean that EU shall lead the region through Germany to further integration?

Poposki: It will be important for Germany not to lose the benchmark that in several years all countries should be part of the EU, and at that time the region will have to make it more compatible with the EU to reach its standards. Germany is likely to pay most attention to fulfill the standards in the region in the political and economic area. Economic area depends most of us.

DW: Macedonia - Bulgaria – The Neighborhood Agreement is not signed yet. But both countries have shown some cooperation in public for example by MANU and BAN and both governments.

Poposki: If we compare the current situation with that of two years ago when during the Summit in 2012 for the first time it was raised the issue by Bulgaria that the support for Macedonia's accession to the EU is not unconditional, now the things have been improved in many aspects. Meetings of historians, academies, working groups of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs. I think that regarding that agreement many things are crystal clear. We have had open communication and our assessment was that we could conclude that agreement promptly. Internal political situation in Bulgaria is currently such that the country has technical government until the elections in October. By the Bulgarian side we were told: we can have activities, but we cannot solve anything particular. So, in order to conclude the Neighbourhood Agreement and to proceed with the discussions we have to wait until new Bulgarian government is formed. What is important for us is that we have managed to change the climate in discussions of the proposed Neighbourhood Agreement and within the various expert working groups that were taking place. I think if we proceed with this trend of open discussion, it should not be difficult to solve the issue, which objectively, if it is open, it is not in favor of Macedonia, because the last thing we would want to happen is to have two EU member-states who are blocking us. On the other hand we can expect from the EU member-states to behave in European manner on this issue.

DW: Macedonians in Albania are concerned about the new territorial - administrative division of the country, which is to their disadvantage. Will Macedonia react to this process as a state?

Poposki: I think that the approach should be open, and there is no need to interfere in the affairs of a neighboring country by us or any other party. I think that as a principle it should be respected by all countries in the region, we have urged and we have reacted on several occasions when other countries attempted to interfere in our internal affairs. However, we believe it is significant that in any action, reform or reorganization it should be taken into account the preservation of the interests of all citizens in the country, including Albania. And we believe that the opportunity to develop these rights of certain community is wealth and additional argument to be extremely careful in dealing with these issues. Our goal in this issue would be to have open communication, to prevent interference in our internal affairs, nor to have such ambitions. But we should be guided by the principles of the Council of Europe and other European institutions that tend to respect the rights and the status of all citizens in a particular state and all communities in it. We would like to complete this process in democratic manner and I think it would definitely be in favor of the Republic of Albania, with which we share the same European aspirations.