Interviews and Speeches

Interview of MFA Nikola Poposki for Tagespost

Date: 12.03.2016 

Journalist:Oliver Maksan

tagespost

Minister Poposki, your country has closed its borders to migrants. Thousands of refugees are stranded at the Idomeni border crossing in unfavourable conditions. Is this the right way?

Poposki: If we hadn’t acted, it would have been a matter of days or weeks before the collapse of the Schengen system and with it one of the most important accomplishments of the European Union, namely the freedom of movement. We took on this task as a non-EU country, although we could have easily done nothing and let the people through. We could’ve put up a sign: Berlin 2000 km north. Bon voyage. And we would’ve done that if we considered only our national interest. But we didn’t. We wanted to assure Europe that we are a trustworthy partner, one that can join the European Union. This had to be done since Greece did not fulfil their obligation to protect the EU’s external border and prevent illegal migration.

But by closing your borders you are creating additional backlogin Greece. Doesn’t this create a Greek problem out of the purely European one?

Poposki: We are extremely concerned about what is happening in Greece. The solution certainly doesn’t include us leaving Greece to sink into chaos. That could actually have negative consequences for Macedonia as well. But, we do believe that our current policy on the refugee issue will ultimately be beneficial for Athens too. When we implement measures against illegal migration, the pressure on Athens is reduced in the mid-term, because migrants see this and arrive in smaller numbers. There is a very efficient communication between migrants. In addition: taking on the task of ensuring border security gives a bad image to Macedonia and not Athens.

In fact, events that occurred recently at your border caused a stir. Teargas was used by your security forces. Do you think that this is how people should be treated in emergencies?

Poposki: Observing the situation from a distance is one thing, while seeing it up close is entirely different. The portrayal in the media was extremely unfair. There were hundreds of young men who wanted to forcibly enter another country, Macedonia, without being properly registered and identified. They also destroyed a barrier of the railroad track. Migrants also should not be allowed to throw stones at the Macedonian police from the Greek side, without any presence of the Greek police authorities. Greece should undertake measures to prevent such incidents. This is, however, a part of a strategy. The idea is to bring people in buses to the border so as to increase the pressure on the other side. If we did the same with Serbia, and then Serbia with its neighbours, do you think that it will solve the crisis? I don’t think so.

Does that mean that Athens is deliberately using migrants to put pressure on Macedonia?

Poposki: On one hand, we have good cooperation with Greece, and it has improved over time. But on the other, there is a clear intention of forcing Macedonia to open its borders by bringing more and more migrants to the border.

Berlin and Vienna have very different views on how to deal with the refugee crisis. Your country, after the agreement with Austria, has now closed the Balkan route. Why do you think that the Austrian approach is better?

Poposki: I believe that both Germany and Austria ultimately share the same goal, but differ in their methods. Both want to provide refugees with humane treatment. But in my opinion, both counties also don’t want asylum seekers who are fleeing from conflict to be mixed with economic migrants who are looking for income.

Have you observed this mixing?

Poposki: Of course. Since last year, almost a million people from Greece have passed through our country in order to reach Austria, Germany and other countries. Last year this happened in a very chaotic manner. In November last year, we succeed to establish order. Although we still partly fail to prevent every illegal migration due to the smuggling of people and the use of forged documents, we do hope that the European legislation can be re-established. Тhis foresees checking who is entitled to asylum and who is not.

But wouldn’t a solution in the spirit of European solidarity be better than independent national initiatives?

Poposki: We need solidarity in the European Union. No question about it. And as a candidate country we have proven this. We’ve shared the burden. We’ve received hundreds of refugees who wanted to go north but are not stranded in our country because Serbia refuses their entry. We have also spent tens of millions of euros of our taxpayers’ money to cope with the impact of the migration onslaught. But our most important contribution, as I said above, was the prevention of the collapse of the Schengen system.