Interviews and Speeches

Gorazd Chomovski


Faktor: Does the mediator Nemitz have new ideas and are Skopje and Athens informed about them? The Ambassador of Germany Christine Althauser recently, in an interview for Faktor, said that the reference FYROM is being negotiated?


MFA Poposki: There are no such ideas or proposals. I believe that the simplest explanation for this question is the situation we have on field. There is no motive or will, or proposals for intensive devotion to finding a solution. This is very clear for everyone who knows the process. The strategy of Greece at the moment is to continuously find reasons for not reaching a solution for the problem, to keep this status-quo situation that will not enable us to initiate the negotiations with EU and to become a NATO member. The Greek party tries to keep the negotiations process regarding the name frozen as long as possible.

In general I think that Athens at the moment does not have a will for dialogue. That is why I reckon that in short term we could not expect any efforts regarding the dispute imposed by the Southern neighbour. The requests from Athens in the past few years have been much deeper compared to concessions that Macedonia had done. They are trying to push this Greek radical position and they are trying to promote it as a kind of impression for compromise and it goes in line with the conclusion that their goal is, in fact, not finding a solution. We are now much more far from a solution compared to a few years ago. The goal of the Greek side is not agreeing on this issue, whereas, on our side, there is no bigger priority than moving towards NATO and EU.

Faktor: In the diplomatic circles there are voices that say the negotiations have entered the essential phase and that the battle is where to put the geographical qualifier, whether before or following the word “Republic”. Is the governing party preparing the field for compromise by convincing the citizens that the name “Upper Republic of Macedonia” is the most painless solution?
MFA Poposki: I think that in this process the creation of expectations is not something that is unusual. In the past 20 years, if you look into the statements, we always had the feeling that we are one step away from finding a solution to the naming dispute. And this process has been going on for more than 20 years without producing any results on which both parties should agree on what was imposed to us with the Interim agreement. This means that we have an obligation to talk to Greece about finding a solution that should be different from the one stipulated in the Interim Agreement because there, our name has already been changed and we were admitted to the UN as FYROM. It is completely natural for all those who monitor the process with so many unrealistic requests to create some expectations. A large part of them believe that this problem must be solved because it lasts for too long; but if one has a real insight, then they will clearly understand that we are the only motivated party for finding a solution. The Greek side does not have any interest and they cannot lose anything by stalling the dispute. The requests coming from the officials in Athens are beyond any legal norm and present additional violation of the violations that have already been done by disrespecting the International law referring to the reception of Republic of Macedonia and by imposing additional terms that do not exist for any other country. I would like to be in a position when I will say that we are about to overcome the dispute, but the reality makes us more careful.
Faktor: Greece is constantly emphasizing its red lines during the negotiations. The standpoint of Macedonia is a compromise that will not present prejudice to the cultural, linguistic and identity code of the country. What is the Macedonian red line?
MFA Poposki: This political option stands firm on the fact that we will not allow any changes to the Constitution in order to change the identity, linguistic features and anything that completes the Macedonian whole. Any solution that we are going to reach should first pass the referendum. We are the ones who appeal to the respect for the International law. We were issued with a long list of unprincipled requests that are being fulfilled continuously. The ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague showed that Greece violated the international law, including the Interim Agreement. However, the Government in Athens ignores the decision of the International Court of Justice, although it clearly states that by blocking the Macedonian membership into NATO during the Bucharest Summit, it actually violated the Interim Agreement.
Faktor: Would Macedonia accept a name with a geographical qualifier only if the affix is in front of the Republic of Macedonia and a guarantee that it will not refer to the Constitution, identity and language of the country?
MFA Poposki: It would be very unserious to speculate “what if” especially when we are discussing a process that deeply interferes the violation of certain international legal principles. To us, top priority is the respect for the international law, which in our case has been wrongly applied. I believe that we are not on the side that is in a position to bid what additional efforts should we invest or how much we should beat ourselves for the possible pleasure of the Greek side.
The approach of making concessions is wrong; however, the officials in Athens did not fulfil their obligations and now we should engage in additional violation of our identity if we want the other party to be satisfied. Let’s ask the question that is completely legitimate: what will Greece do to alleviate the pain caused by its violation of the international law that not only hit Macedonia, but also the clubs of NATO and EU? Due to the Greek position in this moment, we cannot complete a single international legal agreement, the Interim Agreement although this will enable admission to NATO and commencement of negotiations with EU.
Faktor: The politics of the good-neighbourly relations is also stuck in the long negotiations with Sofia regarding the Macedonian-Bulgarian inter-state Agreement. Why is there still wait-and-see tactics around its execution?
MFA Poposki: In the past two years we were twice in a situation to close this dispute and we did not do that due to the internal political changes within our neighbours. There were elections in Bulgaria, previously there was a Technical Government and this was one of the main reasons why we still have not closed this issue. There was a long process of clarification between the teams from both ministries and we reviewed different aspects of the bilateral agreement. The essence of the problem is that in the past period, Macedonia was political topic in Bulgaria on several occasions.
The execution or non-execution, the initiatives of the joint marking of certain events, the joint inter-governmental sessions was politicized to such degree that it caused internal turmoil in Bulgaria. Macedonia does not have interest in being subject of any discussion and spreading negative feelings. We have a good base with several measures for building trust and we devoted to them, quite seriously, in the past period. We had joint governmental sessions in Kustendil, numerous meetings on level of MFAs, working groups on level of ministers, transport and environment… Additionally, we received help from several institutions that followed the same path, such as the communication between the Academies from both countries, on level of the churches there were positive messages, several meetings on level of NGOs. I think that we managed to get these relations on normal track.
Faktor: Have you settled all differences?
MFA Poposki: We are on a road on which we will comfortable to close this chapter. However, I do not think that the execution of the Agreement for Good-Neighbourly relations is the precondition or the final destination we should reach in the bilateral relations. This is only one stop, just a sign of good will and approximation of the principles. The most important thing is what kind of mutual relations are we going to build, on level of politicians or journalists. The image we are going to have for each other is the main factor that will influence the future development of the mutual relations. The main precondition now is creating a Government in Sofia and I think that we can close this process without any difficulties.
Faktor: You and the Prime Minister Gruevski were in Brussels. What are the priorities that were delivered by EC, and the Government announced action plan? Why is the Government trying to relativize the serious criticism coming from Brussels and their emphasis on “decreased reforms”, “decline in the area of media, judiciary, and partization of the institutions”? Is this a signal that Macedonia is moving in the wrong direction?
MFA Poposki: The report is written to diagnose the issues that require improvement. A report has never been written or will be written so state how smart and pretty someone is and that the country is ideal or completely regulated. The idea is to prepare a report for a country that wants to be part of EU and for the Union to point to the weaknesses that require improvement before the country joins the European family.
There is no non-critical report of the EC. When it comes to whether we are trying to relativize the remarks, I would underline that it is beyond sense to think that after six recommendations for commencement of the negotiations one can have the same level of performances, the same level of assessments coming from the European Commission. In this moment, EC has posed the key thesis in its report and it states: the EU member-states need to take responsibility in the fact that we do not have a valid process. This is a unique qualification because, as much as Macedonia is expected to deliver reforms that are significant for our membership into the EU, EC is also sending a signal to the member-states that the attitude they had towards Macedonia is losing its validity in the eyes of the Commission.
I do not think that it is in our interest to relativize anything. In fact, the reforms should not be related to EU because we are doing them mostly for us, to improve the life in the country. Do we need more efficient administration – yes, we most certainly do; do we need better conditions for doing business – I would say yes; do we need more efficient judiciary – I will answer, yes, we do.
Faktor: Do we need partization of the administration, interference of the executive into the work of the judiciary?
MFA Poposki: First of all, this is a very bad qualification and it is quite a stereotype when someone says partization of the administration. Not all the people in the administration belong to certain party and no one can come to a conclusion that everyone who work in the administration, in one way or another, are related to a certain party. I think that there are many people that are part of the public administration who belong to different parties and in fact, they have the opportunity to express their views within the frames of the election process.
What is of exceptional importance to us is to have professional and competent administration that will respond to the expectations of the tax payers, not for EU, but for us. This Government is very serious regarding this issue; otherwise it would not promote a selection system for the qualifications in the public administration, as is the case with the last proposed amendments in the legislation that focuses on the selection with a possibility for promotion, and the system of carrier that will be based mostly on competences and results. We can conclude that there have been weaknesses, but it is a fact that we have engaged into setting standards that pursuant to the new legislation will take us to creation of a more competent administration.
Faktor: It was stated that the standpoints regarding the constitutional amendments were approximated with Brussels. Did you finally receive consent for free financial zones that will have ex-territorial status? Is it possible that you will give up the constitutional definition of the marriage?
Faktor: It is not appropriate to speak about receiving consent from Brussels for any solution, because, in the end of the day, we adopt the decisions for Republic of Macedonia. The goal of these conversations is to use an open process for stating our arguments for some of the proposals that are on the table regarding the constitutional amendments, and including these two that you already mentions, and to hear the arguments from the domestic and European experts, the comments from the Venice Commission. We want to go into one inclusive process that will take into consideration all these factors, and afterwards, within the frames of the institution to decide on a certain solution that may and does not have to be as it was in the initial proposal. Today it is very hard to prejudge what will be the final solution regarding the constitutional amendments, including the free economic zones and the constitutional definition of the marriage. I do not want to prejudge, but our approach is to openly state our arguments before our partners in EU.
Faktor: How much the criticism from Brussels, as stated in the Progress Report, for the control over the media, selective implementation of the laws, influence over the editing policy through the governmental commercials with public finances and different political pressures, the lack of political debate between the government and the opposition, will suffice for us not to receive a date for negotiations with the Union on the forthcoming December Summit?
MFA Poposki: Regarding the decision in December, we should return to the basic question: EU, despite the enormous pressure, despite the real interest to protect its credibility, because in the last five years their recommendation ended in the recycle bin, used its integrity and credibility to say that Republic of Macedonia fulfils the conditions and it is necessary to commence the negations for EU membership. It is a key message that should be heard by the member-states. Will they do that – I do not know – our influence over them is limited.
If this does not happen, it will not be due to certain disadvantage regarding the issues you already mentioned, or due to the fact that we really need progress in these areas. It will be a subject of political will or lack of political will within the member-states, and I am actually referring to one member-state. All the others that have remarks regarding the degree of harmonization of Macedonia to the European standards have not pointed that by non-commencement of the negotiations we will be in a better position. It is wrong to use the EC Progress Report as a tool for mutual accusations and to abuse it for political points. The EC Progress Report for Republic of Macedonia can be used as our tool for full commitment to the areas at home.
Believe me, the remarks you stated are the arguments that are mostly wished by Greece. In conditions when the Southern neighbour does not have the intention to overcome the naming dispute and in conditions when they are trying to keep us out of NATO and EU, the strategy is exactly that one – to emphasize the weaknesses, to decrease the significance of the sixth recommendation issued by EC, so that this matter can be overlooked in a quiet manner on the forthcoming December meeting of the European Council.
Faktor: You say we do not need external help to make us solve the problems. Then why the Government and the opposition cannot find the exit from the political dead end that appeared in Macedonia after the elections? Nor VMRO-DPMNE or SDSM will retreat from their positions in order to de-block the political dialogue. Will there actually be need for international assistance in order to normalize the political debate and parliamentary life?
MFA Poposki: In my personal view, I do not think that we need someone from outside to come and solve our problems. It is our responsibility, the responsibility of the political elites that receives the trust to represent the citizens’ interests. When it comes to VMRO-DPMNE there was exceptionally constructive approach, an open door for establishment of the dialogue where it belongs – in the institutions of the system. We have probably fallen victims to one completely illogical request of the opposition for a technical government that was underlined by the leader of SDSM, Zoran Zaev. This does not make sense in case when after the elections, with an obvious support, there is a Government with its term of office.
What is more concerning is the fact that at this moment this is the goal and the script that our Southern neighbour wants to use. In their agenda, they will again skip the decision for commencement of negotiations with Macedonia in December. That is why they will try to inflate the part of the analysis and insight in the priority areas for reforms, and to blur our chances for recommendation. The Greek strategy is to underline the weaknesses of Macedonia. Our biggest weakness is that in this moment the leader of SDSM accepts this thesis and plays for the benefit of those who want the council in December to be blurred and Macedonia to be unable to start the negotiations. We should return to the basic principles: all those who joined the elections, received certain trust from the citizens to present their interests in the Assembly or another institution and they should be present there.
Faktor: The EU enlargement process will be on stand by for a longer period. Why no one tells honestly to the citizens of Macedonia that we cannot hope for entrance to the European family, not because until 2020 there will be no enlargement, but because, hypothetically, even if we start the negotiations with Brussels tomorrow, they would last at least for 5 years?
MFA Poposki: There are almost no chances for this issue to be placed on the agenda before 2020. So, we have a certain period during which this issue cannot be resolved. This should serve as an additional motive for us, to devote ourselves to the reforms that are necessary, and it should serve as a motive for EU to reconsider whether they should do something to keep the credibility of the process, because its credibility is seriously violated in this phase. In that context, it is totally irrelevant what will the following EU Progress Report contain, because the citizens no longer read this report as something that contains the decision for commencement of the negotiations with the Union. It is a fact that this time the report contained quite sharp political vocabulary and this is not random, having in mind the standpoint in Brussels that there will be no enlargement in the following 5 years.
Faktor: Are we going to have enough time to amend our weaknesses and to be prepared for negotiations and implementation of the recommendations by 2020?
MFA Poposki: We are ready to start the negotiations with EU today. We are the first country that executed the Stabilization and Association Agreement. We have been a candidate country for the past 10 years, we have six recommendations for commencement of the negotiations and I believe that both politically and administratively we are completely ready to start the dialogue with Brussels for EU membership.
Faktor: Did a Foreign Minister become the head of human resources in VMRO-DPMNE?
MFA Poposki: You should ask that question in the Communication Centre of the party.