Tuesday, 25 January 2022 | News today: 0

Poposki in Der Standard: Greece is not in the best situation to focus on the name issue

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In an interview with the Austrian Standard newspaper, Macedonian Foreign Affairs Minister Nikola Poposki says that Greece is not in a best position to focus on resolving the name issue, two two and a half decades long dispute which has soured relations between the two countries. Poposki also discusses the migrant crisis and the political situation in Macedonia in the extensive interview with the Austrian paper.

“I wouldn’t say that Greece is in the best situation to focus on this problem”, Poposki said, adding that the “European Union does not insists, as it did in other cases, that bilateral issues are resolved while accession talks take place. Instead, the EU says that all member states must agree to opening accession talks”. Poposki says that opening the talks would be a positive impetus for both Macedonia and Greece to resolve the name issue. “But, currently we are left on the outside, and there is no hope. Calls to find a solution acceptable to both sides are similar to locking two wolves and a lamb in a room and telling them to find a mutually acceptable solution on what to have for dinner”, Minister Poposki told Der Standard. The name issue has blocked Macedonia from joining NATO since 2008 and from opening EU accession talks since 2009.

Speaking about the current political crisis in Macedonia, Poposki says that this situation of uncertainty with regard to the European Union increases the dangers of problems in the region. “The longer Macedonia is kept outside of the EU, the possibilities of chaos. There are many groups in the Balkans that have done nothing but waged wars and many of them use political agendas to advance their criminal background interest”.

Regarding the elections scheduled for 5 June, which three of the four major parties decided to boycott, Poposki says that, in a curious development, the opposition SDSM party is the one asking to delay the vote, while the Government wants to hold the elections. “The polls are not very favorable for the opposition. They want elections, but only when they will feel they have the support of the majority of the voters”, Poposki said.

Asked about the decision by President Gjorge Ivanov to issue pardons to over 50 politicians and supporters from both sides of the political divide, Minister Poposki says that there was a feeling that something needs to be done, but that move also caused negative international reaction. “Obviously the intention was good. But, the road to Hell is often paved with good intentions”, Popovski says.

In the interview, the Austrian paper focused on the migrant and refugee crisis, in which Macedonia has closed the border with Greece, stopping the Balkan route that brought over a million people to the core EU countries in 2015 and early 2016. Poposki says that the crisis has worsened political relations between Macedonia and Greece, which blames Macedonia for the border closure.

“Greece has blocked our entry to NATO and EU for years, but our goal is to relax our relations. After we began implementing the decisions of the Euroepan Council on the border, Greece saw that as our way to make life difficult for her. That was not our intention. By now, Greece has realized that we are doing it a favor by stopping the illegal inflow of migrants to its territory. The crisis has also had economic eddects. Half of our trade is moved through the port in Thessaloniki and if we consider the stoppages at the railway and the highway, this has dramatic effects”, Poposki said.

“We currently have 25.000 migrants ont the Macedonian border, which is about half of the total number of migrants in Greece. These 25.000 people are located at or near the border, in different sites. Greek authorities are attempting to remove them from the border, but activists give them false hope that they can cross through. The arrivals have reduced greatly, not only because Turkey holds them back, but because we have closed the border with Greece, and for most it was a signal that they can’t continue toward Europe. If is important for us to have the people in Greece moved from camps to reception centers as soon as possible. Many now live in the open and that worsens the humanitarian situation. We have young people throwing rocks at the police. The situation encourages human traffickers who see that they still have a market to fill”, Poposki told Der Standard.

Asked about the possibility that Turkey again begins allowing large groups of migrants through its border, Poposki says that he doesn’t expect a change in Turkey’s border policy, but in any case, there will be no return to the mass illegal movements from Greece toward Germany. “That has finished”, Poposki adds. There are between 150 and 300 people attempting each day to cross the border illegally from Greece, most often in groups of dozens of people. Poposki says that Macedonian security forces are effective in between half and 100 percent of the cases, depending on the day, but the border can’t be considered hermetically sealed. Very few of them make it to Serbia. About 20 groups of human traffickers are identified and the police is in constant confrontation with traffickers hoping to take advantage of the situation.

The Macedonian Foreign Minister says that cooperation with Greece, which was at a very low point in the initial stages of the crisis, has since improved, with communication between officials on both sides. Returns of migrants from Macedonia to Greece is hit by bureaucratic obstacles, on the other hand.

Expenses to control the border, Minister Poposki says, are between 30 and 40 million EUR so far, including costs for overtime work for the police and the army. Assistance was provided on bilateral terms from Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Croatia, and 10 million EUR were provided through an EU project, 1,5 million EUR of which went to Macedonian servicemen, three million to EU countries and the rest was used for procuring equipment.

Asked about the influence of Russia on Macedonia, Minister Poposki says that Russia is important to all countries in Europe, but over 90 percent of Macedonia’s trade and investments are related to the European Union, and Macedonia remains committed to joining NATO and the EU.