• Tuesday, 16 April 2024

Osmani: Toshkovski's statement about Brussels' position on old name passports is bad interpretation

Osmani: Toshkovski's statement about Brussels' position on old name passports is bad interpretation

Skopje, 21 February 2024 (MIA) - EU member states decide independently about their position in terms of the validity of the travel documents. In general, citizens do not have major obstacles when returning home, but in terms of going out of the country, our law does not allow the use of the old name passports. According to Article 118 of the Constitution, international agreements cannot be changed by law, so we must organize ourselves, meet the citizens' needs and issue more passports, said Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani. 


Asked if the Foreign Ministry has received any official letter from the EC that member states will show understanding for citizens who still have the old passports, Osmani said in a statement to the media at the Foreign Ministry that communication is ongoing with the institutions of the EC, and with the member states, noting that so far there is an official note only from two countries, i.e. Switzerland, which has confirmed in a note that it accepts the old passport, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has said that it will not accept the old travel documents and identity cards.


"Member countries decide for themselves regarding the validity of the passports. One country has adopted a formal position that it has communicated, while the others are mainly more practical rather than having taken a position that they would communicate. However, in general, citizens do not have major obstacles in terms of returning home. First, because we organized the process in the diplomatic and consular offices, we made it possible to obtain emergency travel documents free of charge, have them delivered by mail, which means that we are meeting citizens' needs. Also, many countries do not ask for the emergency travel documents. However, since I have not received an official note from the states on their position in relation to the old passports, I cannot officially inform the citizens. But, that is the message. Most of the countries allow movement with the old passports if they are valid. But I gave the reason why I can't officially inform citizens, because I don't have an official letter," said Osmani. 


He noted that some countries do not ask for the emergency travel documents, but he still told citizens who travel by car and go through several countries not to take risks, and still have the emergency travel document with them, because it is free of charge, and it can be easily obtained.


As regards going out of the country with a passport bearing the old name, Osmani underlined that our law does not allow it, and therefore it is dishonest to push for changing the law on travel documents.


"Any attempt to make public pressure to extend the old name passport validity is dishonest without doing it between political parties. First, because Article 118 of the Constitution says – international agreements that have been ratified in the Parliament are part of our internal legal order and cannot be changed by law. So, the Constitution says they cannot be changed by law. The Prespa agreement is in force, and we respect and implement it. We can sit down and make plans as we did in the Foreign Ministry and organized the process in the diplomatic and consular offices, let's further organize the process here and meet the citizens' needs. This morning I met with the Greek Ambassador again, and we talked in detail about all aspects. We talked about getting new passport photo booths and passport production machines immediately. Also, for the Ministry of Interior to step up efforts with the company for more passport booklets, organize ourselves instead of violating the Constitution. So, it is not right for the parties that were telling the citizens for years that they will restore the country's old name and many citizens listened to them and did not change their passports hoping that the name would really be restored, to now call for something else. Let's get organized, meet the citizens' needs and issue more passports," the Foreign Minister said. 


Regarding the news the Ministry of Interior has received from the European Commission's travel documents committee, which Minister of Interior Panche Toshkovski shared this morning, Osmani said it was "bad interpretation".


"That is bad interpretation. The position of the EC is that the Commission does not make a decision that applies to the entire EU, but it is a sovereign matter of each of the states. States have a practical position. States make their own decisions. Regarding this issue, the countries themselves decide. And so far, most countries practically still allow citizens to move, but they have no official position except so far one has said it accepts the old passport and one said it doesn't," said Osmani. 


According to him, the focus now should be on the citizens.


"It is easy to call for postponement of the deadlines, violation of Prespa, but I think that without agreement with Greece, we must not do that," Osmani said. 


In the context of the amendment to the Law on ID cards and driving licenses, regarding which an agreement was reached between the parties, he pointed out that these two documents are used primarily inside the country, and only sometimes outside it.


"The Prespa Agreement clearly states that there is a political deadline and a technical deadline. The political deadline applies to documents for internal use, and they are replaced according to the opening and closing of the Chapters. So we can interpret more broadly that driving licenses are included in the documents for internal use, so they are included in those deadlines. Passports are directly included in the documents for international use and in the technical deadlines. I have suggested some ideas in terms of urgent issues, having them recognized within a certain period, but we have to do it in agreement with the other party, with whom we have signed the agreement. We are communicating with Greece, bilaterally with the countries, with the EU to make the situation more flexible. Let's also do it in coordination with the Ministry of Interior," said Osmani.  


Regarding how long he expects flexibility from the member states to tolerate the old name passports, Osmani said Greece expects that it will be a short period of some 30 days, which is also what they have talked about with the Greek Ambassador today.


Caretaker Interior Minister Panche Toshkovski in a Sitel TV appearance on Wednesday morning, reiterated the call on MPs to support amendments on extending the validity of passports. 


"Today I received information, in writing, that the European Commission's travel documents committee had held a meeting. The Belgian ambassador relayed this to me. They will show understanding for our problem and will be as fair and restrained as possible in relation to our citizens. Our citizens outside of Macedonia, 70,000 of them in Germany have old name passports. The Germans have this data, we don't. They will be able to go to Hungary and the Czech Republic without any problems, but they won't be able to leave Macedonia if they come back home. The committee had recommended to EU member states to show understanding, yet what are we doing? Only Macedonia, apart from Greece, will be violating the basic human right to freedom of movement, because Members of Parliament from the SDSM and DUI ruling structure don't want to press a button," Toshkovski said.  


The Foreign Minister said that so far about 9,000 passport applications have been submitted to the diplomatic and consular offices in Bonn, and about 7,000 in Bern.