Interviews and Speeches

Remarks of the MFA Nikola Dimitrov at the Conference "In Dialogue with the Western Balkans: Creating a Region of Growth, Security and Connectivity on the Path to Europe" in organization of the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

16 May, Sofia

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FM Nikola Dimitrov: I just landed from the Netherlands, where I had working visit of two days, I met the new Minister Stef Blok and the Committee on European Affairs so I have a very fresh experience in terms of thinking country that is among the founding countries and that has a shake and trust that the accession process actually works, that it can transform countries. And I’ve heard this ‘strict and fair’ many times in these last two days. I think we have to believe that the perspective is not only words. I like the hashtag #TalksWithWB but I think we have to do a bit of walking this year as well, because after the focus, after the renewed attention towards the Region, the new Strategy, that mentions the word credibility – a Summit, 15 years after the Thessaloniki Summit, the first promise (2003, 2018), we have to have a success. And I think success comes when we really apply the ‘strict and fair’. I having lived there and now, part of this renewed, I think more mature drive in Macedonia towards the European democracy, because we have learned some big lessons in the last years. I think we need the ‘strict’ because it’s not about moving through the chapters, it’s about using the process to change. We don’t really want to join tomorrow, because we are going to have the same country. But the accession process is the best tool that the EU has to help those who want to reform. As PM Borisov mentioned it, we have the last big challenge in terms of bilateral disputes, it will be a miracle if we are able to resolve it, but then miracles are possible. And we all need miracles nowadays. Macedonia has lost a generation waiting locked in this room at the station. We see the European train, we have to catch it, it’s a moving target. Maybe I’ll make a point between this decades old discussion ‘deepening vs expanding’ internal consolidation, but I think in terms of timing, these are not really conflicting tasks. Even the indicative timing of the Commission (2020-2025), gives us seven years to deal with the issues of the Eurozone and other challenges that are more on the inside of the EU. If we manage to find the key to unlock the door, and I think we almost have it. In the last years we looked in the wrong century, now we’re here in 2018 – then, it will be a tragedy if we’re not allowed to start the accession talks. We have a very positive report this year, of the nine fundamental areas under the spotlight of the EC, we have good progress in five (some of the more important ones, like Freedom of expression), we now know how important free media are, we know how important civil society is. In our country we work together to change – change the way we do politics, change our system, be more transparent. I told my Dutch friends: “Everything is now public. And there is a competition between Ministers in the Government who spends less”.  About two weeks ago, there was a Minister from a big country (N.B. visiting Republic of Macedonia) and everyone wanted to see him, but nobody wanted to host him for lunch, it was a big delegation. So, we’re changing, we have a very angry public opinion, rightly so, and I think that is helpful because the only way to make progress is to face reality, recognize a mistake and then correct it. I think in many ways, and Freedom House agrees with me, that Macedonia this year, is the best chance for Europe to make a democratic breakthrough. We have managed to halt a negative dynamic but this is not enough. We need to achieve success and make it irreversible. So, whether this is possible (N.B. answering the anchor’s question) – yes, is it going to be easy – not really, there are still some countries who are not fully there and it is our job, in the way we discuss issues with them, very frankly, doing our homework at home but also, convincing them that Lord Robertson said this in Skopje, I heard him myself in 2001, he said “If you can’t ride two horses at the same time, you shouldn’t be in the circus in the first place”. So, we cannot consolidate the EU, without really achieving successes when they are ripe, in the Balkans.

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FM Nikola Dimitrov: I am going to pin point several elephants in this room. My key point is accession process always fails when it’s politicized. Regardless if we politicize if we push a country forward or to hold a country backward. And this ‘strict and fair’ must mean that every country should be judged on its own merit, because if we’re talking about groups – that is politization, one country dependent on something else. Politization is also when we are afraid of European elections. This is a factor. Next spring, we have European elections. In some capitals they are afraid to discuss even the start of accession talks because they think that the public opinion will mix admission with the start of the journey, and that’s another elephant in the room. And I think that they have a responsibility to be leaders and to say “engagement is less costly”. Then Commission (N.B. EC) and politization – if we have a report of the Commission that says “with this country A, we should open the accession talks”, this should be a no-brainer for the member states, unless there are major heavy bilateral disputes this is no excuse but in particular when there are no bilateral disputes. If a member state doesn’t follow that means we’re not really trusting the Commission. So I think we have a very different process of what the Slovak PM discussed (N.B. previously at the conference) about his country. It’s more complex, we have frontloaded preconditions before the start of the accession talks, we have a focus on Chapters 23 and 24 and I think that the Commission is pushed to be bolder. And we saw in my country what one honest report did, the Priebe Report. So, these are some of the elements that will influence this whole process. A federation was mentioned (N.B. previously at the conference), I think that the only federation that we want and it is feasible in the region is the (N.B. the Minister is quoting) EU. We have two visions in the Region, surrounded EU member states in the same boat economically, European integration or ethnic borders and problems. We’ve seen what happened when we followed the logic about ethnic borders in the ‘90s. The only way for the future is European integration. Consistency is key and I think we have to come out of age of the Balkans. What we did with Ekaterina (N.B. DPM and FM Ekaterina Zaharieva) with the Friendship Treaty, although I made a mistake talking about how often we see each other, because we did this relatively fast (N.B. referring to Friendship Treaty) and with Nikos (N.B. FM of Greece, Nikos Kotzias) is taking us longer, so I don’t see Ekaterina as much as I see Nikos. I see this as a growing up in our region. What we essentially did, to put it simply, we separated the relations between the countries and we gave history to historians to be discussed, etc. It’s really high time for our region to produce more future than to compete who had more glorious historical defeats or who is the oldest. Every single nation believes they are the oldest. It’s time for us to be proud of what we can do today and tomorrow. History is great but it’s time for us, for our generation to produce something that we can be proud of. And I think this is something that we can be proud of (N.B. showing towards FM Zaharieva and referring to the Friendship Treaty), resolving delicate issues. If we have other breakthrough that will be a historic success in 27 year old dispute and we need also to convince our skeptical friends in the EU, to be consistent. We want a chance to compete in reforms. Let’s compete who fights corruption better and whose judges are more independent. Let’s have that competition between countries who will have the accession talks in the Balkans. And we have to be also open with the European voters, we have to show them and tell them that in alternative of failing Balkans is a bigger issue for the EU than investing and make this region a success.