Thursday, 14 December 2017 | News today: 14

PM Gruevski: Greece has two name positions – one official and one unofficial

SDSM leader does not have the strength to face the pressure of several people who have some other interests. He has no strength, no creative or intellectual superiority and power to confront these people. I think it will be too late when he will realize what are their goals and interests, " says the Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia Gruevski in an interview with "Republika". About a week ago, Gruevski attended a conference organized by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, and returned with the impression that Germany wants to help the region, which is struggling with its problems. Despite the status quo over the South Stream gas pipeline due to the Ukraine crisis, he is not giving up from providing energy sources that will make the country independent, regardless of the challenges that the region and Europe are facing. He will not allow anyone to misuse the Macedonian multiethnic society, which is our tradition and treasure, for their own goals and interests.

The interview with the President of the Macedonian Government was conducted for the 2nd birthday issue of the weekly magazine  “Republika”. And of course, in the period after the Berlin summit, and ahead of the future assessment of the European Commission.

The Berlin summit was held recently, there were different expectations and analysis that went from one extreme to the other. There were three panel discussion about economy and politics, meetings behind closed doors, a declaration interpreted as four tasks for the region. But what actually did Berlin bring?

Gruevski: The impression is that Germany as leader and the EU would like in the next four years, once they officially announced that there will be no enlargement, to pay more attention to the region in terms of two things: first, solving the major issues in various countries in the region and second, economy, including infrastructure and energy, as well as the investment climate.

Regarding the major issues, each country has one. Serbia and Kosovo have issues in terms of completion of the agreement, including mutual recognition and opening embassies, Macedonia has issues with its southern neighbor, Bosnia and Herzegovina has issues with the Constitution and needs to start functioning because the state is said to be dysfunctional, there are certain issues among other countries as well, for instance Croatia does not have border agreements with nearly all its neighbors, except  with Hungary, so, all countries have some major issues that need to be resolved, and Germany wants to put emphasis on all of that.
I think that the United States are also stimulating that, or they are stimulating a stronger role and activity by Germany and the EU in the region.

In terms of the economic segment, the idea is to give the crisis-hit Balkan countries a stronger impetus, and make them prepared and have them meet some of the economic standards when the time comes to join the European Union. It remains to be seen how they plan to do that. If they plan to go through loans to the Balkans, it think it will be an insignificant support, because most of the countries in the neighborhood already have debt issues and have surpassed their debt limits. Fortunately, Macedonia is not one of them, but Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, and probably the other ones too, are either very close, or above their debt limits. If the plan is about IPA grants, we already have those, and they are not a big novelty for us. Let’s wait and see what comes out, whether a new initiative for support, or a combination and reinforcement of the existing lines of support, which is the option that is floated more recently.

In relation to the energy situation, it is known that the EU wants to see more diversity in the gas pipelines, and it is possible that there will be support to diversify the supply so that the Balkans are not dependent on only one source.

In infrastructure development, the summit in Berlin was about roads, railroads, developing entire networks of infrastructure through regional projects for better interconnection which will require cooperation between the countries and progress. Gruevski says that it seems that these projects will get a bigger focus and greater support from the EU.

Somewhere the rule of law is the main obstacle for investors to start coming.

At the dinner with the German Chancellor, in the last stage of the dinner, which was more loose, because earlier included official speeches by the participants, there was a question from one of the participants from the region, who asked her: “How do you feel when we sit next to you, eight states, you know that we expect help from you, that we ask you to help us, financially, economically and politically, as one of the strongest countries in Europe, and on the other hand you know that we have problems, so how do you feel? “It was an unexpected question, but she gave an interesting answer.

She looked back to the period when she was in Eastern Germany, when the Berlin Wall was falling, what they were facing with and what they were thinking, and finally told the point that she was aware that we are in difficult situation, and that she could not help us only with compassion or pity, but by requiring prompt completion of the reforms that should improve the situation in the countries in our region. All states will be required to do more reforms and Germany will try to help us in the process.

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What came as the final declaration of the recent Berlin Summit on the Balkans will pervade in this interview. For example, the segment which called on the opposition that they need to be able, and want to be part of the institutions, to be part of the political debate. Will that be understood as it should or it will remain as the already known reaction that it was a message to you to accept their demands, conditions for dialogue?

Gruevski: The document includes one single sentence on that issue, it is a clear expectation of the opposition Social Democrat Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM) to take back its activities to the Parliament. I think this is a very clear message about the EU position about the way some opposition parties in some of the countries are acting. It tells them how they need to continue their legitimate political battles, without pre-conditions. So, if anyone was uncertain over what the EU, and more broadly, the West’s position is regarding this issue, now it is clear. The opposition needs to work through Parliament, and not outside of it. The opposition can’t expect to gain some kind of international support by boycotting the Parliament or walking out of it. I think that the Macedonian opposition has unrealistic expectations that it will gain sympathy from the public by leaving the Parliament, or get international support. The Macedonian citizens understand the situation in the country well, and this move won’t get the opposition party any sympathies because their actions are not based on the truth and the motives why the opposition walked out of Parliament are unrealistic. They said that the elections were not realistic, that the results of the elections were falsified and that there were unfair and undemocratic elections. This is their reason to leave the Parliament. In fact, anyone who has been following the Macedonian political situation understands that the walkout of the Parliament was an alibi for the leader of the SDSM to keep his position in the party. That is now done, he remains leader of the party, and now he is looking for a way to return to the Parliament, or is unable to find one, because there needs to be a transient stage until his party returns to the Parliament. It’s not my business to comment on how he will do that and if he will be able to do that. I can see that there is some kind of competition in the opposition bloc to show who is more rigid. The competition is between a group close to Zoran Zaev, and another group which we can say is close to Crvenkovski, even though both these factions have the same goal and similar mentorship. This fight over who will be more rigid and will act tougher, is taking them quickly headlong toward a wall. I can’t tell who will be the first to hit the wall, but it will be a significant impact, and it will be too late when they realize what they’ve done. Unfortunately, they will also inflict damage on Macedonia.

There was a situation one year ago when  Zaev was asking the SDSM members to return to the Parliament, and they were refusing to do so. Somehow history repeats itself in very short periods of time, until when?

Gruevski: According to my understanding, in 2013 Zaev was in favor of returning to the Parliament, and against a boycott of the municipal elections. He wanted to take part in the elections, he was against the boycott, because at the time it suited him personally. He felt that he had a good chance to win the mayoral race in Strumica, and then had different arguments. Now, he needs an alibi that will help him remain a leader of the party, and now he says that the elections were irregular, and that was the reason he lost the elections. Then he slipped and in one occasion said that even if the elections were regular, his party would have lost, but by a smaller margin. We can see that he himself doesn’t believe that the elections were a fraud, he knows that we had regular elections, but because of his personal political fight for his career, he needs an alibi, and he found it in claiming that the elections were not fair. He pushed his party out of Parliament. He kicked out the elected representatives, even though it is my understanding that they would like to return.

I believe that the political fight led by Zaev is heavily influenced by several individuals that Gruevski says dominate over the leader of SDSM. He sees them in the editorial boards of several media outlets financed by the Soros-led Foundation Open Society Institute, and in the universities. It is easy sometimes to guess what Zaev will say, if you just follow the comments of 2-3 individuals that are long-term members of SDSM and who, sometimes officially, sometimes informally through their opinion pieces in the media, serve as a guiding light for Zoran Zaev. So, before going to a meeting with him in June, or July, the day before I only needed to read what they wrote and, knowing that he doesn’t have the strength or the ability to deal with them, I was able to know 90 percent of what I could expect at our meeting. He does not run the party and its policy individually; he is being led under pressure by several people who have their own interests, who follow these interests. It’s obvious that the leader of the party has a problem how to deal with these people and can’t answer them if he wants to go in a different direction. He doesn’t feel he has the strength, the creative or intellectual superiority and power to stand up to these people in any meaningful way. I think by the time Zaev sees the real goals and final interests of the powers behind SDSM, it will be too late for him. He is in a way dependent on them, they have their own close associates who manage the funds that help finance journalists, media outlets, so-called intellectuals, have a network of activists with certain influence. This is one of his problems, but also a problem for the Social Democrats. Their problems, unfortunately, can also cause problems for the Republic of Macedonia, such as the absence of the opposition from the Parliament, or stimulating destructive moves and the like.

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The number of foreign direct investments in Macedonia is increasing. Many companies have entered the country, is it now easier to work on attracting foreign investors?

Gruevski: The work of attracting foreign investments in Macedonia is getting easier as the time goes by, owing to the experience of the team whose work is focused on investments compared to where we were five or six years ago, and also owing to the increased reputation of Macedonia among foreign investors. Every year more and more companies learn about us, some through the direct road-show events we prepare, others through the ad campaigns on CNN and other international media, but also through word of mouth. When one company comes here, or visits some of our road shows, the word spreads. That is probably the most valuable part of our promotion. I remember the new foreign direct investments that I announced during the last election campaign and now they have begun to arrive, and a dozen new companies are signing the agreements to invest. The latest is Energya from the Ukraine. With some of these companies, we already have an agreement on the timing, in September, October, so things are moving in the right direction.

All that together with undertakings in agriculture, subsidies, is improving the living conditions, and thus creating conditions for improving the demographic picture.

Gruevski: One goal of the government is to have the investments dispersed around the country as evenly as possible, so they are not all focused around the capital Skopje. We want them to go to Bitola, to Tetovo, to Prilep, Stip, Strumica, Kavadarci, Veles, Gevgelija… We want the people living in those regions to be able to find their own fortunes in the place where they live, and not to be forced to move out and go elsewhere, around or outside of Macedonia. Any chance we get, we try to persuade the investors to open their business outside of Skopje. Sometimes they don’t listen to our arguments, and we can’t put too much pressure on them, because it might have the effect of moving the investment outside of Macedonia. However, what we can suggest them, and not to be taken as putting pressure on them or interfering in their affairs, is to consider investing in other regions of Macedonia. And they know that, it is so in every country in the world, especially Southeastern Europe, where there is a concentration of investments around the capital. Investors are aware of that, but not always can do that. We tried to convince an electronics company to invest in some of the regions in Macedonia, but they say that only Skopje has a sufficient number of IT experts and electrical engineers. “We can not go to another city and not be able to employ or to pay three times more to someone to move from Skopje to another city.” And there is no longer talk, when it comes to highly qualified staff. Otherwise, it also suits them to go across Macedonia because there they can find a cheaper labor force than in the capital. It is a common interest to go inside. There is a strong interest to move the investments in the interior of Macedonia, but sometimes that is not possible because there may not be enough highly educated workers available, or they are from the wrong profession.

As far as needs of foreign direct investments go, infrastructure and availability of energies are among the most essential. Macedonia does construction works on three highways simultaneously, the railway, gas supply for the economy, but also for households, which is important due to the liberalization of the energy market. How are works advancing thus far?

Gruevski: As far as gas supply is concerned, there are couple of levels: primary level – pipes between different cities, then secondary level – installation within the cities. The third – gas flow to the country. This one might actually be first, not third.

The primary network, to connect the cities, is subject of talks with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and there is a verbal agreement with the Bank to approve a loan. In every country this part of the network is done by the state, and is not given up for concession. Even though, there are companies that would be more than willing to take up that part of the job, it is customary, for reasons of energy independence that the primary gas network is done by the state. The part between Kumanovo and Stip we plan to build with the old USSR debt toward Macedonia. That would cover the span between Klecovce, near Kumanovo, and up to eight kilometers outside of Stip. The rest of the primary network would be done with EBRD finances, which would approximately amount to about 300 million EUR, Gruevski says, adding that in the next few months the talks with the Bank will be finished and he expects an agreement to be signed. Then the feasibility study and the building projects phase would begin.

The plan of the government is to have the secondary network, that would distribute gas to individual consumers, to be given to commissioners. In Skopje, the bid to connect households and industrial plants to the main pipeline is almost finished. The bid for companies interested to compete for the two other concessions, for Eastern and Western Macedonia, has been published recently. Gruevski says he expects a lot of interest in these projects. “We expect to have both the primary and the secondary networks finished in two to three years.

What does providing new gas amounts to the country means, what do connection to global pipelines and the pipelines initiative means?

Gruevski: There are two possibilities regarding increasing of gas amounts, we were initially focused on two possibilities, but now we are reviewing more. One is the South Stream, and the other is the TAP line.

Currently, the South Stream project is on a stand by, because of the political issues between the European Union and the United States on one side, and Russia on the other, over the Ukraine. This project is now on hold, and whether it will get built is not up to us, it’s up to greater geo-political interests that Macedonia can’t have influence over. If things go badly South Stream will not be built. But, if there is some kind of an agreement between the major powers, then probably there will be a solution for this project as well, and we would fit into it.

About the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), the other potential source of gas, I spoke with the Azeri President, the Prime Minister, the Development Minister and the representatives of the Azeri SOCAR company in Baku a year and a half ago. The company later sent its representatives to Macedonia, held talks and there are no problems with making a connection to Macedonia. But, the issue with TAP is that this gas would reach Europe much later then South Stream was supposed to, some time in 2022, or 2023. The gas itself should flow by 2021, but the first quantities are already sold out, so the earliest time Macedonia could get gas would be 2023, and that is if the project doesn’t get delayed.

Meanwhile, Macedonia is looking into other potential sources. One is to connect to the Romania – Bulgaria inter-connection pipeline, and the other is to connect to Greece, which has a gas pipeline mere 30 kilometers from the Macedonian border. Macedonia could build the pipeline through Greece to the border, and then connect to the primary network. The gas would come as liquefied natural gas, delivered by ships to Athens. This would be slightly more expensive alternative than having the gas delivered by a pipeline, but it would still get the job done. We have no issues with Greece regarding this possible project. They are not trying to block it, they said they will have no problem to get it done, and so our economics team is in communication with all these possible sources of gas. Soon we will need to make a decision which is our option number one, which is number two, etc. In the short term, we get enough gas as it is, but in the long term, once the network throughout Macedonia is built, we will need additional quantities of gas. We’ve been working on this so that we will not have problems with the delivery of gas for the next 5-6 years.

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Back to Berlin. Its primary purpose was acceleration of the Euro-interactions. It is clear that even after several negotiation start recommendations, Greece’s stubbornness hinders the process.  To what extent can these summits facilitate overcoming differences related to the name issue with Greece?

Gruevski: We shall see. It is difficult to say. Greece has two positions on the name issue – the first one is official and the second one is unofficial. The official position is that the country is willing to solve the dispute, however there are certain conditions which they know cannot be accepted in the Republic of Macedonia and they are created in such a fashion so that they can’t be accepted. The informal stance, which EU member states and all parties involved in this matter are familiar with, is that Greece now is not in a position to settle the name row i.e. they have way too many internal political and financial issues to engage in efforts to solve this issue, and that right now they should not be required to do so.

Yet, they don’t say they do not want to solve it or that they cannot, or that they are against solving the name issue. No, their rhetoric is – we want to solve it, but only if the government accepts these conditions, which they know are not going to be accepted by any government in Macedonia.

Their informal stance, i.e. the position of the EU member countries and all those included in the dispute acting as facilitators, is that in fact now they are not in a position to resolve the issue. On the other hand, they are not even prepared to offer any kind of opportunity in order for Macedonia to make a breakthrough in the EU integration process.

The process of finding a solution is delayed, and whether it’s due to lucrative goals or real internal challenges, that is irrelevant, at least in the short- or long-run. However it is more problematic that they act like the spoiled child of the European Union, who has temper tantrums if the EU fails to offer help, thus harming the future of the family and the home.

We are tired of those games of mutual accusations, we are tired of dealing with lies such as the one that I allegedly met with Fidel Castro – which had been spread in some centers several years ago – when in fact on that same day I was at a meeting in Skopje with (ex-US ambassador) Philip Reeker. These accusations don’t lead us anywhere, let alone toward finding a solution. We are prepared for a name solution, we have clearly defined principles and positions and we believe in them. And we are supported by the people of this country. We want the country to make progress and we will be making efforts to come to a resolution. However, other countries in the international community need to be more focused as well in an attempt to prevent the status quo from becoming a threat to the region.

Ukraine is an example of how inflexibility and inertia of administration and in terms of NATO and EU can cause problems and pressure in matters of borders and organizations, a need to change of rules. Can we count on it?

Gruevski: Thus far, there are no indicators that the Ukrainian crisis can cause any shifts in the behavior of the major powers regarding this issue, since they see this problem differently than we do. They think Greece is in way too much financial troubles which could potentially alter the fate of the Euro. This could directly affect their economic and monetary destiny. The issues with the Euro, settling the crisis and the reforms in Greece are their top priority first and foremost. They claim they are exerting huge pressure over Greece to push the reforms process and Greece to become a self-sustainable country, even saying that they cannot fully exert pressure, because if they put the full pressure on the fiscal issues, even without additional pressure about the name issue, the Greek government could fall. In the case the government falls, then the next one could be more risky from the point of view of economic reforms and Euro maintenance. The pressures they are exerting over Greece about the reforms come in doses, they are not strong enough as not to disturb the political relations in the country and to pave the way for the anarchists i.e. SYRIZA to assume power, because the main opposition party is unpredictable when it comes to the Euro and possible return of the Drahma.

In these circumstances, some of the international partners are saying – since we are not pressuring the Greeks enough about something that is of major importance for us, don’t expect us to exert pressure about your issue, because the name issue could also deteriorate the situation in Greece. In other words, it is the main reason why Greece at the moment feels no serious pressure to settle this issue. It is clearly due to the interest of the EU states. They are motivated by their interest, which is only natural. And their number one interest is to keep the Euro, Greece to solve its economic problems and to become self-sustainable, to pay back its debts and the Euro to be stable. A stable Euro means stability in the monetary union, in Europe and in the EU. This is top priority. Once this issue is solved, then other outstanding disputes can be solved.

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Request for establishing good neighborly ties with Sofia was also noted as an obstacle to open EU negotiations.

Gruevski: The President of Bulgaria, Mr. Plevneliev said that Macedonia is not ready to sign an agreement with a text identical with the declaration that expired in 2009. It was signed in 1999 for a period of 10 years. President Ivanov has responded to this saying that Macedonia is in fact prepared to do that, and then signals came giving the green light to sign the document. Everything was delayed with the elections in Bulgaria. I expect that after their elections, the document agreed by the presidents Plevneliev and Ivanov –i.e. signing of the treaty with the same text of the declaration – can be concluded. I welcome the dialogue and the positive trends launched with Ivanov’s and Plevneliev’s gestures. It is a solid foundation for the resumption of a dynamic dialogue based on already established principles and practice, which will produce a mutual solution to continue the existing practices. There is not a single reason for Bulgaria to doubt the friendship of Macedonia. I’m convinced in this and time shall prove it.

Recently there were many sparkles, which might disrupt the inter-ethnic environment in the country, and all eyes were on the endurance of the government coalition, which seems to have surpassed all the games, regardless of the developments in Bit Pazar or Gorce Petrov.

Gruevski: Macedonia is a multiethnic country and, unfortunately, incidents sometimes happen among the different ethnic groups. Every multiethnic country has these occasional smaller or greater tensions between the communities. This time, the last situation, it involved a radicalized religious character, and was not an inter-ethnic event. But, organizers tried to make it a broader event subscribing an ethnic element. As I have said, we faced religious radicals who wanted to destabilize the country, and to persuade the Albanian population in Macedonia that a group of people received prison sentences only because of their ethnicity. Not because of the crimes they were charged with,  but because they were Albanians, which was far removed from the truth. Maybe at one point one part of the Albanians believed in this,  but I’m sure that, as time goes by, they will realize they were manipulated by a group of people who most certainly don’t have the interests of Macedonia at heart, or the interests of the Albanians and Macedonians living here, for that matter.

We’ve been through a lot since our declaration of independence. A lot has happened, both good and bad. I’m certain that we have a joint future and we will not allow the multi-ethnic character, which is our tradition and treasure, to be detected as potential danger and abused for someone else’s goals and interests.

We find ourselves before changes to the criminal code that will sanction Macedonian citizens who join foreign paramilitary groups because what we are dealing with is the participation of Macedonian citizens in the Middle East conflicts, on the side of ISIS, close to Al Qaeda. Do you think it will affect the mentioned religious incentives?

Gruevski: It’s good that these changes were passed. Some of the other countries in the region also passed similar laws, and others intend to do so. The events of the past few years forced us to pass this law. It is a bad development that we have Macedonian citizens travelling away, fighting in foreign armies. They return as aggressive personalities, trained to kill, shoot, destroy and burn down, as people who have gotten used to being in danger and at risk. There is a grave danger that they will continue to act in this way in Macedonia as well.

Time will only tell if we can solve this issue by passing a law. We will see how much effect the law will have on these people. And how easy it will be to monitor their departure, because they do not fly directly to Syria. They leave for one country, then go to another, third one – it is hard to keep track of their movements before they get to the battlefield. Time will tell. Maybe we will need to re-adjust the law, based on how the situation develops, and on the potential weaknesses in proving that someone in fact took part in a conflict. In order to take them to court and sentence them to five, seven, nine years in prison, we need to present evidence before the judges. We can’t just say that ‘we know’, or ‘we’ve heard’, or ‘someone informed us’ about it.

 

By: Naum Stoilkovski
Photo: Gjorgi Licovski