Interviews and Speeches

Interview of MFA Nikola Poposki for Faktor

13 November 2015

By: Gorazd Chomovski

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An interview with Nikola Poposki: The EC report doesn’t only concern the Government, Macedonia is also faced with serious challenges!

In an interview for “Faktor”, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikola Poposki, who is also a member of the Executive committee, stated that the critical assessments from the EC are acceptable, but also said that “we must stop using the excuse that we are problematic. The clean record will expose the reasons why someone would have an interest to keep us under the ice for several years without negotiations with the EU".

According to the minister Poposki, real problems cannot be resolved by using the politicized phrases "calculations and criminalization".

“These types of phrases are repeated most frequently by politicians that haven’t done anything and are seeking to win cheap short-term political points. Serious decision-makers know that major reforms do not dissolve in water like an instant drink”

At the question asked by “Faktor”, whether international facilitators are a guarantee that the transitional government will function flawlessly and without the possibility of obstructions, Poposki stated that:

"A guarantee that the transitional government will function flawlessly can only be the actors that participate in the elections. Partners from outside can only offer goodwill. Obstructions can occur, but the key is for the direction not to change. "

Faktor: How do you interpret the statement in the EC progress report for Macedonia that “the political system is completely undermined by corruption", that we have are seriously failed in the key areas part of additional monitoring, such as the rule of law, including the functioning of the judicial system, the freedom of expression, the reform of public administration and corruption. We got a conditional recommendation with a request to conduct and implement the Agreement from Przino. Does this mean that Brussels turned on the “alarm” and that this situation will no longer be tolerated, and does the fact that the recommendation was not revoked mean that we have an opportunity to do better?

Poposki: These areas are the most critical in the Progress reports created for virtually all of the countries of the wider region, which under observation by the European Commission. Therefore, in order to be objective in an assessment, distance is needed. The EU is particularly focused on the topics related to the rule of law. But the EU has learned from the mistakes from the previous enlargement process. At the same time, we are all convinced of the need for progress in the countries themselves.

The question whether we have failed depends on whether we have received a recommendation or not. And it is obvious that there is a general agreement for Macedonia to start the negotiations for membership in the EU. What is more, this accordance did not come over night. A recommendation is not obtained because a country is diligent and sympathetic. It is acquired through long processes of harmonization, application and adaptation, and finally through a deep political assessment.

So, this year we have a recommendation for negotiations with the EU and this was not just handed over to us. If we are wondering whether there is room for progress in this sphere: no dilemma there, there is a lot of room for progress. Progress should remain our priority. Not because of the request of the European Commission, but because of the need for increased predictability of the institutions and in order to regain the trust of our citizens. This is the motivation to implement reforms in our system and will have to continue implementing them.

Faktor: Will the obligations from the Przino agreement be realized with a dynamic that guarantees fair elections and a definitive showdown with high level corruption and criminalization of social and economic processes?

Poposki: The goal of the current political operation is to organise elections which will not provide the opportunity for excuses to be presented as well-founded complaints. And this is the motive behind the, mildly said, pretty eccentric demands made in this process. Elections, which according to the agreement, can and should be realised. I say this solely due to our joint Macedonian interest.

Regarding the second part of the question, real problems cannot be resolved by using the politicized phrases "calculations and criminalization”. These types of phrases are repeated most frequently by politicians that haven’t done anything and when seeking to win cheap short-term political points. Serious decision-makers know that major reforms do not dissolve in water like an instant drink. We need a solid process for strengthening the institutions that implement rules. This again comes down to having sound rules of the game and robust people that apply them. Many things have improved in Macedonia since its independence. Today, we probably have the largest number of profound reforms that are being implemented.

Instead of convincing each other on who had the better instant solution, it is better to compete with projects and strengthening of institutions.

THE REPORT DOESN’T ONLY CONCERN THE GOVERNMENT

Faktor: Two key formulations appear for the first time in the report of the Commission, and these are “serious challenges” and “worst political crisis since 2001”. Does this mean that Macedonia has completely neglected the European agenda and that regarding certain government steps the country has made “one step forward and three steps back”?

Poposki: The report doesn’t only concern the Government. It concerns all of the stakeholders in Macedonia. It is true that the current challenges are serious. Macedonia has always come up with the capacity needed to overcome serious challenges. And so it shall be this time. It is a legitimate question to ask whether if we had started the negotiations in 2009, with the first recommendation, we would have been in a better situation today. Realistically, the best guarantee that the country will go in the right direction is a credible process of EU integration. Even with the handicap of constant postponing, Macedonia has improved its position for much more than three steps in practically all of the rankings.

Faktor: How do you assess the fact that the EC report directly notes implicated government officials in the affair of “Intercepted communications”. If Brussels comes out with this type of attitude, does this mean that there is some information regarding this and that they have already made certain investigations?

Poposki: When someone has stated a certain claim, it is best to ask that someone about it. It is not appropriate for us to adopt approximate conclusions. I think that we have institutions that are responsible for the assessment of such allegations.

Faktor: Are the international facilitators a guarantee that the transitional government will function flawlessly and without the possibility of different obstructions, whether by VMRO DPMNE, SDSM or DUI?

Poposki: A guarantee that the transitional government will function flawlessly can only be the actors that participate in the elections. Partners from outside can only offer goodwill. Obstructions can occur, but the key is for the direction not to change. Finally, only the citizens can reward or punish misconduct in the process. I believe they are our healthiest guarantee.

THERE IS SPECULATIONS THAT COUNTRIES ARE WITHDRAWING FROM THE GROUP “FRIENDS OF MACEDONIA”

Faktor: Why did five member countries of the informal group “Friends of Macedonia” recently decide to withdraw their support for the country? Have you talked to the Prime Minister on why the outside support to Macedonia is missing and on how to restore the confidence among international partners?

Poposki: There was speculation which I don’t believe is true. Representatives from the countries that were listed openly stated that this wasn’t true. On the other hand, it is a fact that our supporters are finding it very difficult to stand up for Macedonia, in view of our internal conflicts. They often say that we should help them, so that they can help us. And they are right. However impossible it may seem to remove the blockages, it is a precondition for us to stop using the excuse that we are problematic. The clean record will expose the reasons on why someone would have an interest to keep us under the ice for several years without negotiations with the EU. We shouldn’t be searching for the guilty party, but we should be settling our own backyard affairs. I strongly believe that we shall overcome this challenge.

Faktor: The European capitals and statesmen point the finger of blame towards the Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s attempt to tamper with the mediators and guaranties in the Przino agreement.

Poposki: It is best for those that said this to explain it themselves. In principle, it is natural for all of the expectations to be directed towards the Government. It has the greatest support from the public and the greatest capacity to pull forward. That is why it is a reflex when issues appear, no matter who is causing the hindrances, for everyone to turn towards those with the greatest capacity to resolve problems.

NONE OF THE CURRENT PARTY OFFICIALS SHALL BE A PRIME MINISTER OF THE TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT

Faktor: Your name is mentioned as a future Prime Minister of the transitional Government. Would you accept to be the Prime Minister of a Government that has the obligation to prepare the field for conducting fair and democratic elections?

Poposki: No. None of the current party officials shall be the Prime minister. We have a clear stance in VMRO DPMNE on this matter.

IN ORDER TO SOLVE THE NAME ISSUE WE NEED GOOD WILL FROM GREECE

Faktor: What is the basis of the claim of the mediator in the Macedonian-Greek name dispute that now comes the right time to close the ongoing bilateral problem? How realistic are the chances for there to be a serious movement in the negotiations in the next few months?

Poposki: The mediator has the mission to encourage and bring closer. We have been trying to find a solution for two decades. If during those past two decades someone stated that the time is right to reach a solution, they wouldn’t be wrong. We know this very well here in Macedonia, because we have spent too much on the blockages related to the name dispute. It cost us not only money and investments, but also lost opportunities, projects and perspectives. Nothing should be idealized, but it is obvious that Macedonia as part of the NATO and EU would be a much stronger, more stable anda wealthier country with a safer future. We could then finally be a country that is not only the subject to other parties’ decisions, but also a stakeholder in the making of those decisions.

There is some progress in the collaboration with Greece regarding the implementation of the trust measures. There is no telling how effective this will be on its own in resolving the dispute. However, it is the best way to create the basic trust that didn’t exist through the years or was very small. Regarding the time frame of, as you say, “the next few months” I believe that it is not good to make predictions. We need to be dedicated to improving the climate and not to miss any opportunities to come closer, whenever they arise. For this to work we need the Greeks as partners.