Skopje, 28 April 2021 (MIA) – President Stevo Pendarovski in an interview with MIA conducted during his visit to Brussels talks about the EU’s challenges, North Macedonia’s road after the election in Bulgaria, which is likely to hold fresh election in the coming months.
“For North Macedonia, it is the worst scenario, because the country at the moment has no one to talk to in Bulgaria and nobody there can make any political decisions. It’s happening at a time when North Macedonia has been hoping for a green light to hold the first intergovernmental conference with the EU,” says Pendarovski.
He once again calls on Bulgaria to appoint an individual or an entity with whom North Macedonia will be able to resume negotiating and to ultimately reach a compromise, which will open the doors of Europe.
Pendarovski also talks about the series of so called non papers, which have been recently circulating and proposing redrawing of borders in the region.
The President warns that whoever might be writing these documents they don’t wish the Balkans well.
What was your first day of the visit to the EU like, let’s begin with that.
It went according to the expectations. Our expectations, my expectations to be exact, were that after a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic, during which there weren’t any activities by Brussels or by us, we need to get back on the old track of having basically daily communications and to get back to the issue that matters the most to us in terms of the visits – I mean the EU, the integration process, the first intergovernmental conference, when, how, what; and what are the chances especially after the election in Bulgaria.
You said yourself that Bulgaria was the main topic at the meetings considering the situation in Bulgaria given the fact that the country won’t form a government anytime soon. Is the chance for holding the first intergovernmental conference by the end of Portugal’s presidency likely to be wasted?
The outcome from the Bulgarian election is the most unfavorable result regarding the dispute we have, to be more precise, the dispute they have with us. Election results show that it is highly unlikely that Bulgaria can manage to form a government with stable majority. Several parties have already returned the mandate. It’s hard to imagine that other parties could form a government after the first ones failed, which means that they almost certainly will get, what they call, an administrative or caretaker government. The issue with caretaker governments, from our point of view although it is their business and no one should interfere, is that they don’t have a full political legitimacy to solve common daily political issues, political issues not technical, let alone a bilateral dispute, which is also far-reaching.
There could be different kinds of transitional government, but, it is going to be just that – it won’t be a political government. Latest news coming from Bulgaria is that they are mulling even concrete election dates in July, all the while they have regular presidential elections – they basically have consecutive elections, which is unfavorable from this point of view.
We are proposing, even if they have a caretaker government, that they should appoint, according to their estimations, a special envoy – like we have – in order to be able to resume negotiating.
Does this mean we won’t open the negotiations before July 1?
There is slim chance. Yesterday, I met with the European Parliament rapporteur for the country, Mr. Kyuchyuk. He is from Bulgaria, he knows the political situation there better.
He doesn’t rule out – although it is outside his portfolio as EP rapporteur – the possibility of a caretaker government having political will for resuming the negotiations. However, I’m not saying that we will find a solution if we resume talking with a political government being aware of Bulgaria’s position so far. But, it’s up to them – if we keep talking there is absolutely no guarantee that we’ll succeed. It is also possible that we don’t resume at all considering the political situation in the country after the elections.
At your meetings with the EU officials yesterday, have you asked them for exerting of pressure on Bulgaria to remove the blockade?
I think our European interlocutors and friends don’t need to be convinced in this regard and I don’t want to speak about any pressure. As you are aware of how the European institutions function, there is this European solidarity. They are all equal no matter how big or small a country is. They don’t function according to the principle of pressure. We don’t ether.
I want to bust an illusion, a thesis that we have been hearing from Sofia for months that we, North Macedonia, cannot wait for the government to change there because we cannot come to an agreement with the current one. We are waiting for them to elect a political government to start negotiating with us.
As for our European friends, you know that 26 EU member states didn’t agree with Bulgaria’s position, however the principle of full consensus prevented them from approving the opening of negotiations. Hence, there’s no need to convince the 26 member states. Definitely, we don’t intent to make someone pressure others in order to allow us to get by. Out thesis has always been – even in the case with the dispute with Greece – that we want to discuss European principles and international standards.
When international standards are concerned, you or I or anybody, in Bulgaria and everywhere else should define what they are, who they are and it must not be disputed by anyone. We see no reason in the context of EU integration to discuss if you or someone from somewhere else should put on paper you are not what you think you are. We want to discuss European principles alone, nothing more nothing less.
Do you have a plan B if North Macedonia remains blocked?
I’d been asked this question for years when Greece had a dispute with us. I always said that our plan B is in fact plan A. We have to keep negotiating with Europe because it may not be the only alternative for us, but it is the best one. I want to emphasize this.
Yesterday, I told my European interlocutors that this past year an injustice was done partially due to the pandemic and mainly because of the blockade and due to European solidarity, all other European countries stood by it. However, Euroscepticism in North Macedonia rose, which was reflected as a support for other alternative regional organizations. At the meetings, I cited findings of polls, presented to the Macedonian public, which show a drastically increased interest of the citizens.
I’m not talking about margin of error, I’m talking about a rising percentage of people who until recently had been unconditionally in favor of the EU believing it is the best alternative. Now, they are faced with a second blockade fearing it might last as long as the Greek blockade. They say we have one life to live, let’s consider other options.
It’s a threat because without general support, I wouldn’t be where I am, the government wouldn’t have been elected. Let’s not forget, the current political structure had won the 2019 presidential election, the 2017 election and the 2020 election on its pledges to be committed to the Euro-Atlantic agenda and everything else that has to do with it, namely better life, more investments, higher living standards, etc.
In fact, there is not a single internal issue that isn’t at the same time connected to the European agenda, including inter-ethnic relations – to be harmonized, stable and improved. It is European value because Europe is made up of diversity. In my opinion, it remains by far the best option for us. But, what might happen if in the coming years we are still in EU’s waiting room due to blockades like this one, based on quasi arguments.
What might happen – firstly, skepticism will grow with a tendency to become dominant, likely over 50%, and secondly, we could experience a surge in emigration. Also, let’s not forget, we postponed the census for this fall. I can tell you, I strongly believe that we are all scared from what we might see after the census is done, based on what I know from my colleagues in Skopje, because we feel, we know, we see and we have comparative analyses of reports suggesting we are far away from the figures we have from 10, 15 or 30 years ago.
Does the EU not see the drop in public support?
Yes, it does. But, the other organization that sees it better is also based in Brussels, it is NATO, which is the best thing that happened to us after the Prespa Agreement. I’m talking from the point of view of security and stability of the country as a precondition for any other type of development, economic, personal, etc. I’m about to meet today with the NATO chief and I can say that we’ve had an exceptionally good cooperation in the first year since becoming a member.
We entered as full-fledged member in this mechanism of exchange of information and we’ve been receiving all information on time that is in connection to our region and our country. Of course, we’re sending back quality information for the rest of what they call Euro-Atlantic space.
This past year, I’ve completed a comprehensive and complex phase of issuing security certificates to more than hundred people serving in politics, administration, ministries that are in contact with classified information. NATO’s assistance, which has huge experience in the matter, has been invaluable.
Now, let’s get back to the region. Security in the region has always been intertwined, always. It’s almost impossible to remain stable and peaceful if you have unstable neighborhood and not have any concerns about it. And vice versa, if a country generates instability, the others cannot be quite safe. It’s a good thing we are surrounded by NATO members and NATO troops are deployed in Kosovo.
To get back to your question, regarding the non-paper. Without wanting to look like I’m bragging, but I was the first one in the region who two years ago talked about the threat of redrawing of borders and land swap, which were discussed at that time especially after an initiative of the former US administration.
I haven’t changed my opinion. It’s a good thing that after the latest phantom non-paper most of the highest political levels in Europe reacted. Mr. Borrell did it two days ago, who called the ideas unacceptable. After 30 years of us, the people in the region, investing in the region and after assistances from the international community, we’ve come to considering changing borders in order to live better. It’s a recipe for slaughterhouse. It’s a recipe for war that could be more devastating than the wars in the 1990s.
Regarding security, what’s your comment on the non-papers circulating recently about drawing of borders and do you expect the [NATO] Secretary General to convey a clear message that redrawing of borders is out of the question?
For the second part, I will tell you right away that I know we will get such assurance and guarantee, because according to NATO’s basic principle an attack on one member is considered an attack on all others. It also applies to all kinds of threats, not just traditional ones, but also hybrid threats, asymmetric threats etc. From this point of view, it’s not an issue whether we will get support from NATO, we’ve received support and we will receive it.
As regards the non-paper, I haven’t seen it except from what I’ve learned from the media. I want to warn about another threat, according to my opinion. It’s an issue that is due to unravel.
The day before yesterday, I saw a new non paper, allegedly a French-German initiative. From what I found out from our colleagues from the two countries, officially they haven’t produced and they haven’t handed out such document.
My warning is this – I think in the coming period, and it is perhaps already happening, some centers outside our region that wish our region harm, will be producing new and new non-papers, which is a kind of so called hybrid threat, in order to ruin the value of institutions, to make the public to trust less in the domestic institutions and to simply cause chaos in the minds of all of us who live there.
It’s simply incredible that such diplomacies with tradition, such countries in which politics is treated as seriously as possible, like Germany and France, would produce just like that non-papers to the tiniest detail.
A non-paper by definition is an initial point for a discussion with the other side, if there’s interest. The latest non-paper has quite a lot of details even going as far as to list the responsibilities of certain bodies, let’s say what Kosovo should have. It has never happened like this before. That’s why I believe it is to a certain extent, I’m not saying the whole series is like that, fake non-papers that were prepared in some centers of power that wish the Balkans harm.
Translated by Bisera Altiparmakova