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FM Poposki: Forgetting the values is dangerous for EU

It is nothing new that our southern neighbor has problem only with the name. After all, they managed to change the name in the 90s when we became the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for some parts of the world. Ambitions go deeper, and everyone that has been following the dispute knows that. Therefore, Athens is running from respecting the law and the democratic standards in this area. And we are interested to preserve them. The battle is law versus power.

Nikola Poposki is one of the high official representatives from Macedonia that perfectly know the European Union and the manner that decisions are made as well as the policies implemented in it. This diplomat, who graduated at the elite College of Europe in Bruges and obtained a master’s degree in European Integration, is continually urging people to respect the principles and the values he cherishes, which, actually, the European Union is built on. Using his experience as Macedonian Ambassador in the European Union in Brussels (2010-2011), he perfectly knows that not always the European rules are used as established by its founders. So far, neither he nor Macedonia has found a way to contradict the Greek arbitrariness which not only directly violates the European principles but also distorts the image of a community that is considered as one of the most successful integration processes in the history of mankind.In this interview as well as earlier during his last performances in Brussels and other capitals, Poposki, besides his personal contacts, is constantly using the strongest card that his country has -the international law and the judgment in the Hague, as well as the Macedonian reform portfolio thanks to which Macedonia has been given a recommendation to start accession negotiations with the EU for five years in a row.

The Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras directly pointed out before European representatives that the Macedonian language did not exist. What is the interpretation of that statement in terms of the name issue?

Poposki: One interpretation could be that it is consistent with a political agenda seen twenty years ago, and practiced much earlier. An agenda based on rejecting diversity and preferring power over law. Another interpretation could be purely political, with a message at home that no one is more Greek than me on this issue. Thirdly, a conclusion that  there is a larger dispute behind the name dispute: the acceptance that every nation has the right to self-identification and the doubt over the project for a peaceful and united Europe without border changes. Whichever it is, it is not happiest selection.

Nuland’s visit to Macedonia and Merkel’s message regarding the name issue came almost at the same time. Does that mean we can expect a more serious commitment from Washington and from Berlin towards resolving the dispute imposed by Greece?

Poposki: Both Berlin and Washington are aware that without their engagement, the work can not be solved in reasonable time by itself . Ideally, everyone would like to see a self-made Greek-Macedonian agreement, which they would have congratulated the parties on and life would continue to flow. In practice, it is unlikely to get to it without them. Everybody is very careful to avoid typical emotional reactions of Athens. I think that they would get involved, but they would not like that to reflect negatively on the long list of expectations that Athens should work on in the next period of time. There are many things on the outside that are perceived as much more dramatic about Greece than the name issue.

How accidental is the statement by the German Chancellor that apart from the name issue, the identity is also an issue? Is Merkel’s public recognition that our southern neighbor, besides the name, is questioning our identity making an additional problem?

Poposki: It is nothing new that our southern neighbor has problem only with the name. After all, they managed to change the name in the 90s when we became the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for some parts of the world. Ambitions go deeper, and everyone that has been following the dispute knows that. Therefore, Athens is running  from respecting the law and the democratic standards in this area. And we are interested to preserve them. The battle is law versus power.

Due to the firm position of the Greek government and the reluctance of the major powers to make  a pressure on Athens, it is obvious that we need to make some quick steps to come out of the impasse. Is there a plan how to do it?

Poposki: Yes. The position outside is as good as at home. We should tirelessly and thoroughly work at home, to set standards, to monitor them consistently and to strengthen the confidence of the citizens that the state cares to have rules of conduct and the rules to apply to everyone. This is the plan. The better we are at home, the harder will be for Athens to put us obstacles and to seeks excuses. At the end, the better we are at home, the less dependent will be on the will of others, even the EU.

Nimetz announced a visit. Are we willing to use the moment for a breakthrough in the name talks, although we are not actually expecting that Greece will withdraw from the red line?

Poposki: It is a good thing that he is coming, but less good that nobody expects that Athens is seriously considering a recent solution. We are the most motivated. Our future in NATO and the EU is being kept in captivity. But our only desire is not enough. A wind of major member states is needed and a return to the basic European values​​. At the moment,  if something is dangerous for Europe, it is the risk to forget the values ​​that stand behind a project called the EU. So, even the decision-makers in Brussels are already loudly saying that they have a serious problem with the way they lead Macedonia’s integration process. The arguments are that the principles and the proven mechanisms for separating issues between two countries have been put aside for a long time, EU integration and resolving the two things together. The epilogue is a moral problem.

At this point, it is almost certain Macedonia will not receive a NATO membership invitation in Cardiff. Do you think the situation might change and how?

Poposki: No. Cardiff will not be about enlargement. Many NATO entities think previous enlargements led to confrontation on the eastern parts of the Alliance. The future of Afghanistan and new realities on the East will be a subject for the Alliance to make decisions. A summit is not required for a decision to be made on Macedonia. All it takes is a nod by the Greek ambassador.


How would you assess Nuland’s decision on not to meet any opposition representative? 

Poposki: I do not know the background. However, it is clear to everyone foreign assessments of that surrounding stand at the lowest possible level.

The new European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has openly stated EU enlargement will not be a priority during his mandate. What does it mean for Macedonia’s EU aspirations?

Poposki: It a fair message. EU has the feeling it has rushed to an enlargement decision in the past. It does not find the situation dramatic enough to rush again. It says there will be no enlargement decision in the next five years. Way better than making promises and saying lies each year, than make excuses. That is something that is not strange to us due to the Greek alibi game and unjust dragging of the integration process by Athens. What is the plan now? To start working now on everything we need to elevate domestic standards and reach a level of adjustment equal to the member states. It depends solely on us. In that manner, those who strive to hinder our progress would not have a room for excuses.

To what extent are relations with Bulgaria improved after the joint celebration of Ss. Cyril and Methodius? How is the signing of the good neighborly relations agreement advancing?

Poposki: In practice, we have accomplished a lot by projects on climate, infrastructure and discussions among historians, even a framework for rebroadcasting of the TV signal in the neighboring country. Work groups have already finalized the work in all aspects of bilateral agreement. However, judging by political developments in Bulgaria, it seems we would have to wait until the new government is elected in order to finalize the process. We are ready to complete the process in mutual interest.

You have made it clear to the Albanian and Kosovo Ambassadors to Macedonia that Macedonia will not accept any interference with national affairs in regard to the “Monster” case, to which they responded. Can we expect for neighboring countries to attempt to interfere with national affairs in the future?

Poposki: I do not think it is beneficial for any country, especially not in the Balkan surrounding, to nurture a culture of cross-border interventionism. We have to get used to institutional actions within the state. I believe Tirana and Pristina had no intention of adding fuel to the fire. However, on purpose or not, it can cause actual consequences. Interfering with domestic affairs of a neighbor seems to rather be a reflection of the internal political climate and a competition of who is bigger protector of the cross-border national cause. Unintentionally, it seems to be an attempt in favor of of those who openly state they want divisions and different borders and establishments.

What matters most to us, is that we have friends in Albania and Kosovo who also prefer future in Europe. Sometimes, misunderstandings can occur even among friends. It is our duty to openly state them and to work together towards reinforced and more transparent cooperation. That is exactly what we shall do, since success is a mutual result.

Greece has issued a veto threat to Albania due to the sea border between both countries in the areas where there are oil and gas reserves. Is it possible for Greece to veto another Balkan country, just like it vetoed Macedonia?

Poposki: I would not wish that to anyone. Nor I think it would be beneficial to anyone. God help our veto is lifted instead of putting another one to a neighbor of ours.

You have become a father days ago. What kind of future do you expect in Macedonia for your child and when do you expect he will be able to use the benefits of being a European citizen?

Poposki: With all due respect to the youngest, I also wish for our generation to use the benefits of the EU. I believe it is fully achievable for the whole region to be part of the same structure by the end of this decade. It will be different than it is now. Even EU will not be the same in 2020 as is it now, even less NATO. The sooner, the better. Moreover, it will decrease the room for imposing double standards on Macedonia, as it is being done now without the blink of an eye. As a small state in the middle of the Balkans, we remain to be a subject of unprincipled blackmails. Without any illusions that everything is perfect in AU and NATO, but they are still the best model that might offer a brighter future to Macedonia.


By: Nenad Mircevski
Photo: Republika
(The interview with Minister Nikola Poposki is published in the 99. edition of the weekly magazine Republika, July 25, 2014)