Interviews and Speeches

Interview of MFA Nikola Poposki with “Figyelo”

We’re passing the migrant ball

01.09.2015 

 

Nikola Poposki | The Macedonian government is considering physical closure of the border, since several thousand migrants are arriving daily at the Greek-Macedonian border – said the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Balkan country for our weekly paper.

 

How does the migrant crisis influence Macedonia? How can you cope with the several thousands of refugees crossing the Greek-Macedonian border on a daily basis?

We slowly got used to the daily number of 500 refugees, but now there are three or four thousand of them per day. At one time, 12 thousand individuals arrived in Macedonia from the Greek islands in a 48-hour period. In this situation, the EU wants us to register all of them, to prevent illegal border crossing, and to grant the right of asylum to those who apply for it and to review all applications separately. This is physically impossible without outside help. You must bear in mind that Macedonia is a country of only two million citizens.

In reality, how many persons can you help?

We are certainly trying to register everyone arriving at the border. But as soon as we take serious actions following the requests of our European partners, i.e. trying to control the border, halting people, we immediately face negative criticism from the international community.

At the beginning of this month, Amnesty International condemned you severely for closing your border at Gevgelija and for suppressing refugees with stun grenades.

Europe wants us to follow all EU rules despite the fact we are not an EU member, only a candidate country. And yet, I would like to point out that the migrants arriving to our country actually come from an EU member state. We don’t want to point fingers at Greece. In reality, they are also trying to alleviate the pressures they are faced with, but unfortunately in doing so they are passing the problem over to the next country, i.e. to us. In my opinion, the EU should have certain basic rules under which problems should be solved within the Union.

But you are also relaying refugees to Serbia, they, on the other hand, pass them over to Hungary, and we send them towards the west. Where does it end?

In effect, we are practically passing the ball to the territory of another country, but the reason behind this is the lack of common European response, there is no European consensus on how we can handle this question. And until the Balkan countries, the EU and Turkey agree on how to deal with the problem, there will be no coordinated response.

Have you considered protecting your borders with a fence, following the example of the Hungarian government?

Obviously, we also need some kind of physical protection to reduce illegal border activity. This is not easily achieved in such a short time, and is not a long-term solution. But if we take Europe’s demands seriously, then there may be a need for such a thing... either soldiers or a fence or a combination of the two. But I emphasise that this is not considered a proper solution.

However, if we do not strengthen our side of the border, knowing that this is not being done from the other side, then we cannot Europe’s requests. On the other hand, they can tell us to simply leave the borders open and let refugees through.

Your situation is not an easy one, since your relations with Greece are already tense due to the name dispute, and the decision on the accession date is continuously being postponed.

In my opinion there is less and less interest in solving the name dispute, and in the meantime other member states have gotten used to the situation, which effectively blocks Macedonia’s membership in the EU. The accession date keeps changing. We are left only with the implementation of all relevant reforms, simply for our own benefit, regardless of EU and NATO membership. The name dispute will never be solved with Greece though bilateral talks. This is an asymmetrical condition, i.e. our relations with Athens are very good, there is no daily tension, we have excellent business and economic relations, tourists come and go. But no one puts pressure on Greek politicians. Any type of compromise would be quite unpopular for their internal policy, and it is much easier to ignore the situation, than to participate responsibly in resolving the issue.

BUSINESS CARD:
- The 38-year old politician is the Macedonian Foreign Minister since 2011
- From 2010 to 2011 he was the country’s Ambassador to the EU
- From 2006 to 2009 he was team leader at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission
- From 2001 to 2004 he worked at the Macedonian Embassy in Paris
- He studied at the University in Skopje and Nice at the department of economy, and earned his master’s degree at the College of Europe in Bruges.