Interviews and Speeches

Interview with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Republic of Macedonia Nikola Poposki for Sprska Ekonomija

Date: 15 March 2017

Journalist: Milica Krivokapic, Mitko Arnaudov

slika srpska ekonomija

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia Nikola Poposki underlined the existence of great potential for regional cooperation. With its intensive economic development Macedonia secured the 6th place in Europe according to the 2016 World Bank Doing Business report, and the 12th place in the world, while according to the report on direct foreign investments of the IBM Institute for Business Value, the Republic of Macedonia was ranked number one in terms of job creation. These results best demonstrate the country’s readiness and determination to establish a stable and predictable economic climate.

To what extent does the overall crisis affect the economic priorities of the Republic of Macedonia?

Nikola Poposki: The political crisis does not affect our priorities since they are stable and long-term. Good economic development certainly implies the existence of a favourable political climate. Macedonia has good results in regard to last year’s economic growth, as well as the year before that, but I believe that when we put an end to this political crisis the progress we’ll achieve will be even greater. Reliability and predictability do provide favourable investments after all.

How did the migrant crisis complicate the free flow of goods between the Western Balkan countries and the European Union?

Nikola Poposki: It was a problem, especially when we had 10,000-12,000 refugees a day which caused a blockade on the railway lines and the highways. I would say that we’ve managed to overcome that situation, but I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that such a scenario could be repeated; especially having in mind that one million people used the Balkan route within a single year. It’s impossible for such a situation to leave no consequences on the economy.

Can the roadblocks Macedonia is facing on its Euro-Atlantic path call the economic sustainability into question?

Nikola Poposki: EU integrations are closely linked to economic growth, as we’ve seen with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe that have joined the EU in the period between 2004 and 2013 where the largest growth was noticed a year before and after joining the EU. Neither Macedonia nor any other Balkan country should be an exception in this context. However, given the unpredictability of our region, we cannot rely solely on these forecasts. We need to focus on reforms and on improving the business climate and to keep advancing these before, during and after joining the EU.

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During the 90s certain political elites believed that the dispute with Greece will be resolved by intensifying the economic ties between the two countries. Today those ties are stronger by the day, and yet the dispute remains a current issue. What are the alternatives for resolving this dispute?

Nikola Poposki: Economic as well as all other types of cooperation affect the overall climate. Greece has always been one of our five most important trading partners. The ties that exist between Greece and Macedonia are natural and I don’t think those ties will change. The adoption of confidence-building measures was in our own benefit because it helped us across numerous areas, including the economy, energy connectivity and infrastructure projects, but I don’t think it will automatically lead to resolving the name dispute. However, the most important thing and the prerequisite for reaching any political solution with Greece is to have good economic relations and to have contact between the two peoples.

Is it realistic to believe that Western Balkan countries participating in the process of joining the EU will give priority to establishing a regional economic cooperation as opposed to the current political disputes?

Nikola Poposki: I believe that priority must be given to economic cooperation since it is the basis for a good political climate. In fact, that point was proved in practice because regardless of the state of political relations, the economic cooperation keeps following an upward trend. This applies to all regional relations.

Can the construction project for a Budapest-Athens high speed railway line contribute to improving the regional integration?

Nikola Poposki: I’m certain that all the countries along that corridor will be better connected and will notice an increase in the flow of goods and people because this project will change the geography of our region and trade which has up until now circumvented us and was carried out by sea from Northern Europe to the Macedonia and the Balkans. This will contribute to increasing the EU’s interest in our region. The EU founding project would never have worked if it was a purely political project. In our case as well, by following the same logic, the economic cooperation should be a priority through creating a common market.

How will Brexit affect the domestic economic market?

Nikola Poposki: Let us hope it won’t. This is a very important issue for us because the United Kingdom is our second largest economic partner, right behind Germany. The British Minister for Europe visited Macedonia and we discussed many fundamental issues because the agreement that will arise from negotiations between Brussels and London will be crucial for us. However, during his visit, the British Minister said that the interests of British partners will not be affected at all.

To what degree will Donald Trumps’ economic policy jeopardize transatlantic ties?

Nikola Poposki: That’s a million-dollar question. It shouldn’t lead to any major changes because the economies on both sides of the Atlantic are closely linked and are inter-dependent. As a whole, the EU represents the largest market in the world, while America represents the second largest, and China the third, and I see no sense in disrupting this principle because it would be detrimental to America as well.

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How will the new US administration position itself in terms of our region?

Nikola Poposki: Based on what was said so far, I don’t think the Balkans will be among their top priorities, but after the Munich conference attended by the US Vice President, the Secretary of Defense and the Home Secretary, their messages indicate that America has no plans to leave Europe and that in this context it will focus increasingly on the cost to defend NATO member states rather that its strategic disengagement from Europe. We must find our place in the relations between America and the rest of Europe and to eventually take on greater responsibility in the independent creation of regional cooperation. We cannot expect someone else to do our job.

Do you consider the current political relations between Macedonia and Serbia stable?

Nikola Poposki: Yes. Solid positive opinion among nations is highly beneficial for the good relations that exist between Macedonia and Serbia. During talks with my Serbian colleagues I’ve heard polls carried out in Serbia indicate that the Serbian people have the most positive opinion about Macedonia and the Macedonians, and I’m sure those views are shared on our part. Such relations always assist in politics. We are a turbulent region becoming even more turbulent by the day and here inter-human relations are crucial and are reflected on the political relations regardless of the challenges we face.

How would you describe the Macedonian economy?

Nikola Poposki: Competitive with a touch of political uncertainty, but with a great underlying potential since we have built the foundations that carry long-term results. The system is already established both in terms of attracting foreign investments and in terms of job creation, so it is by no coincidence that we have managed to employ over 160,000 people during the past ten years and that we have the highest rate of jobs created per capita through foreign investments.

Could it be even better?

Nikola Poposki: I’m sure it could. We have to continue to work and to put our energy into moving forward.