Saturday, 16 December 2017 | News today: 0

FM Poposki: It is so much easier when we say things openly

Any form of growing uncertainty will not reflect positively on the climate in the neighborhood, even less on investments climate, says Macedonia’s head of diplomacy – Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki in an interview with “Republika”, adding that Macedonia has been overcoming a political crisis in a short, but intense period, while EU’s scanning begins and the country is on the line of haggling over the “Turkish Stream”.

We are awaiting to the scanning process which is a step forward to Euro-Atlantic integration and it occurs in a turbulent period for Macedonia. What is its significance and what to what extent will that period be shortened when the real negotiations will kick off?

POPOSKI: If we can speak of anything at all that might be positive in this whole process of overcoming the political crisis it would be the possibility of making steps ahead regarding specific topics in Chapters 23 and 24 since the increased attention of the EC will most probably result in recommendations which will be a solid foundation for the reforms we would have to implement regarding the rule of law in all sectors and institutions.

In practice, it would mean that we will be able to make up for the time gap in comparison to Montenegro and Serbia, which countries have already begun the formal scanning while we were blocked. I think in that manner we will make a sort of mobilization for the same reforms which will be a precondition for them, just like they were for Croatia and with the new process for EU accession negotiations we will also be able to implement them. Two things matter in terms of time perspective: one of them is how fast we will accomplish – regardless whether it is about media, or rule of law, judiciary, practically, everything that is related to these segments, but, also, how fast will the EU be prepared to give us new benchmarks and to what extent will their political climate be changing for the closure of chapters. We will need a political climate not just for opening, but also for closing of chapters.

Your Greek counterpart, Nikos Kotzias, comes for Tsipras’ cabinet, who promoted a sort of more open-minded and more open stance in politics and actions. In fact, he has an informal approach in his appearances, the symbol of which is him not wearing a tie. To what extent is that informality present in the communication?

POPOSKI: In my opinion, we have a kind of an open talk regarding all issues, those we agree for and those we disagree for. I think what you are referring to regarding the informality level is also reflected in the communication. That is an advantage. In a situation where two countries are burdened by an imposed dispute, it is much easier when we say things openly to each other. It is much better when we openly state our fears that Greece has no intention of making a step ahead in resolving the dispute or their tendency to always postpone it and transfer it to other fields, their fears that Macedonia promotes irredentism and that it poses a threat to their national interests.

The positions are clear, predictable and in line with what has already been publicly discussed, therefore I would not be able to say we have significant bidirectional movement in terms of the essence, but we definitely have a climate of putting the arguments on the table in an informal manner, their recognition and making efforts to do more for a shorter period of time. At this moment, I think that the best that can be done in short period if time is the step forward in the confidence building measures between Macedonia and Greece.

Macedonia and Greece are also on the line which has once again divided the world – the “Turkish Stream” gas pipeline. The are both on Russia’s gas pipeline map. The gas pipeline has become a sort of a referendum issue for the East or the West. On the other hand, Macedonia needs the gas as a stable agent for both citizens and investors.

POPOSKI: I would agree to some extent that there is a perception that it has become some kind of a referendum for who should be making the decisions – the East or the West. I still do not think it is in line with reality. Two things are important. One of them is the economic aspect, which is the fact that we need more fuels and that the more projects we have for bringing energy to Macedonia and the entire region, the better it would be for us, because neither us, nor our neighbors are rich with fuels. It is energy that will determine the speed of our development. Things are more simple regarding this issue and we agree we need more of them. The second thing is politics. It is most important for us that we have made a strategic decision to become part of the European community. The European community, NATO. Hence, it is quite normal that if we want to be part of such community, we need to make strategic decisions in cooperation and by consulting our partners.

As for “Turkish Stream”, our position is open since the very beginning. We want a gas pipeline that will provide transport to more gas to Europe and which would possibly transit through Macedonia, which would decrease the prize of agents and increase their quantity. On the other hand. for that to happen we need an agreement between the supplier – Russia and Turkey, which is the first point in Europe that the gas would reach, than with all countries on the gas route, which are part of the EU, such as Greece or Slovakia, or are moving towards the EU – Macedonia and Serbia. At the first ministerial meeting we held in Budapest to discuss this topic the European Commission also took part. The second precondition which must be met is having EU’s agreement that it would not crash the entire market. This is our stance and it is very clear. It is based on strategic orientation and priorities: accession to the EU and consulting out partners, as well as economic logic, which means bringing in more gas for a lower price, which I believe we all agree for.

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As the head of Macedonian diplomacy, what is the influence of the political crisis in Macedonia and the managing of the terrorist group from Kumanovo on Euro-Atlantic integration, good neighborly relations in the region and foreign investments?

POPOSKI: Any form of growing uncertainty, which an inevitable outcome if their is political confrontation in the country,  will not reflect positively on the climate in the neighborhood, even less on investments climate. That is exactly why we have been focusing all of our efforts to overcome this crisis and to restore economic predictability because it will bring us more investors and new jobs.

As for the crisis in Kumanovo, which was exceptionally serious, it is most important that it has been resolved thanks to Macedonia’s response in the field and in politics, but also due to the response by our neighbors who have sent clear political messages that any extreme actions will not be supported and I do think the cooperation and the messages that were sent in this regard in both Macedonia and the neighboring countries, especially in Kosovo and Albania, were an example of how we can eliminate a threat which through criminal and terrorist activities aims to become a factor and to act, I’d say more on the public scene than through criminal actions. This response was an example of how how we need to act to eliminate all threats and to, eventually, create a better climate for everyone in the region since no one would benefit from rise of tensions.

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There have been various reporting in Serbia and Bulgaria regarding Kumanovo events. What are the relations with them?

POPOSKI: We nurture excellent relations with Serbia and the fact that it Macedonia’s second biggest  trading partner and the excellent cooperation in transport and connectivity, the Serbian community in Macedonia, the Macedonian community in Serbia, we truly have great relations. Increasing tensions in times of a crisis is not helping at all. It goes for all countries in the region, so we would have to focus on the way we communicate when discussing certain issues from both sides of the border. It’s in both Macedonian and Serbian interest. A good benchmark for the perception and the public opinion, according to which Serbia is perceived as a friendly country. Also, I think that in many public opinion polls conducted in Serbia, Macedonia is being perceived as closest and most friendly country of Serbia. I do believe we should use that to promote trade between both countries.

When you are a NATO and EU candidate country, relations are always more complicated with member countries which are our neighbors than with those who share our status, or are also trying to join the club. As for Bulgaria, the main condition Bulgaria has is that Sofia expects an agreement for good neighborly relations and a mechanism to monitor the implementation of those measures up until we join the EU. We are interested in creating a climate in which both countries would avoid receiving it as an instrument for Bulgarian pressure on Macedonia, but as a manner to increase bilateral cooperation in all areas. It will be crucial. There has been an intensive communication between the working groups thus far, but the political instability in Bulgaria in a given time has decelerated that cooperation, followed by the political situation in our country which has also imposed deceleration of the pace. We are now in a phase. We have now reached a point at which it would only take one or two meetings to form a solid foundation and to close those issues.

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As head of diplomacy, what was the importance of undisrupted interethnic stability in the country after Kumanovo events?

POPOSKI: Any action of that kind, any event of those proportions carries a serious risk regarding the way we are being perceived from the outside. It has happened in operations in big countries such as France, Belgium or Germany. The same thing is also happening in NATO aspiring countries. For us, the most important thing was that the political response from our neighbors, especially Albania and Kosovo, was in line of attempting to preserve regional peace and stability. It was even more significant that political parties in Macedonia – regardless of their ethnic affiliation – were unanimous. We want out Macedonia with territorial integrity and we shall not allow granting political support to criminal groups which wish to abuse their position and brand themselves to reach some political goals. This response is most important to our partners who monitor us because we would have had a completely different assessment from the remaining EU and NATO member states if our response was not such. Therefore, I think that the level of maturity Macedonia has shown when it was faced with such threat is comforting enough for NATO and EU to feel that the Republic of Macedonia is a partner that should be in the club. In a situation as dangerous and unfortunate such as the one in Kumanovo, we have shown a capacity to resolve problems in the field, but also a capacity to send a clear message for the course Macedonia maintains regarding its foreign policy goals, which is accession to NATO and EU.

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By: Naum Stoilkovski