Interviews and Speeches

Macedonia: Skopje expects EU accession talks to start in 2019

Given the progress achieved in the resolution of the name dispute with Athens, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Macedonia Dimitrov thinks that EU accession negotiations will start in 2019.

Journalist: Albrecht Meier
Link: https://bit.ly/2Oxr5rF

On Thursday, the Macedonian minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikola Dimitrov met his German colleague Maas for a working breakfast.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Macedonia, Nikola Dimitrov, thinks that the EU will start accession negotiations with his country at the end of next year. "Given our achievements, we want to make it practically impossible for EU member states not to reach a consensus for the start of accession negotiations, Dimitrov said for Der Tagesspiegel. But, for Macedonia, the process of joining the EU is "more important than the timetable", he adds. "Our ultimate goal is not to join the EU just for the sake of it, but we want to take advantage of the accession process in order to make the country European", says Dimitrov.

EU member states will decide next year whether to start accession negotiations with Macedonia and Albania. The European Commission is committed to further stabilising the Western Balkans and to counteracting the increased influence of Russia, Turkey and China in the region. The EU has been negotiating with Serbia and Montenegro since the beginning of the decade.

Dimitrov, who met with the Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas (SPD) in Berlin for a working breakfast, in the conversation with Der Tagesspiegel referred to the success achieved in the decades-long name dispute with Greece, which has blocked the country's accession to the EU and NATO. Greece calls for renaming of Macedonia because Athens otherwise fears territorial claims by its neighbour.

The Agreement with Greece

In June, the President of the Government of Macedonia Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras made a breakthrough and agreed to rename the country "The Republic of North Macedonia". In a non-binding referendum in Macedonia at the end of September, the name change was approved by an overwhelming majority, but without a quorum. Meanwhile, the Assembly in Skopje has cleared the path to the necessary constitutional amendments. In order to achieve this, the Government of Zaev needed votes by the right-wing opposition party VMRO-DPMNE.

           

For the constitutional amendments to be able to overcome the last obstacle, the Government again needs help from the opposition. Dimitrov was confident that the required two-thirds majority would be achieved for the final voting in the Assembly as well. Among the opposition there are both supporters and opponents of the constitutional amendments, he says.

Maas acknowledges Macedonia's progress

After the meeting with his Macedonian colleague, Maas acknowledged the progress made by the Balkan country. "The Macedonian Government made great efforts to resolve the name dispute with Greece", emphasised Maas for Der Tagesspiegel. "The implementation of the historic agreement is a huge step in which Skopje has made real progress. He encouraged Dimitrov to continue on this path resolutely and cautiously. According to Maas, if the name dispute is resolved, a key obstacle for coming closer to the EU and NATO will be removed. "This is a historic opportunity that the country has to seize."

Whether or not the Agreement for the name change of Macedonia will enter into force also depends on Greece: the Parliament in Athens has to accept the Agreement as well. According to Dimitrov, both the Government in Skopje and the Government in Athens are strongly committed to closing the chapter on the 27-year-old name dispute.