Interview by the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni to the newspaper Dnevnik in Skopje

1. Athens and Skopje constantly assess that bilateral relations are on very high level. Argument more is the fact that Greece is investor number one in Macedonia. Nevertheless, diplomatic representation is not on embassy level, so very logical is the question: which are the arguments for assessments that relations are so good and do you have any strategy for improving the things?

I am happy to confirm that our bilateral relations have indeed progressed spectacularly, which is a very positive development. We are neighbours, we are friends and we are partners. Hence, our strategic interests in the region are aligned: we seek a peaceful, stable and prosperous future for the peoples of South-Eastern Europe. According to official statistics, Greek investments head the list of invested capital with close to 1 billion euros and 10,000 jobs. These numbers represent Greece’s unwavering commitment in your country’s future. Bolstering development and helping combat unemployment, Greece’s economic presence is, I believe, a positive factor. Of course, Greek entrepreneurs are top investors not just because your country presents favourable economic opportunities for development, but also because the land and the people form a familiar and friendly environment. Our only difference relates to the name issue.

2. Both nations for a longer time negotiate about the differences regarding the name of Macedonia. For Macedonians this is an “irrational dispute” and for Greeks it is a “battle for cultural heritage”. Could both countries reach a compromise through constructive dialog, or finally, the dispute would be resolved through arbitrage in UN?

As you know UN Security Council Resolution 817 of 1993, urged our two countries to work together to reach a settlement. We have been carrying out negotiations even since under the auspices of the UN Secretary General, with the objective of finding a mutually acceptable solution. We both agree, I think, that hard work, co-operation, mutual respect and common goals provide the very foundations for progress, peace and prosperity. I strongly believe that we can find a solution as long as both parties demonstrate their good will and approach the talks in an open and constructive spirit. As far as the Greek government is concerned, I can guarantee you that we approach – as we have done in the past – the talks with the best and most honest of intentions. I had the pleasure of meeting my colleague Mr. Antonio Milošoski in New York last month, where and I had the opportunity to underline the need to move forward together.

3. You have been angry to Americans when they recognized the constitutional name of Macedonia. At the same time you called and still call for constructiveness of the Government in Skopje, but Greece was the side who refused the last proposal of Mr. Mathew Nimetz last year. Why did you refuse that proposal?

Last year Mr. Nimetz, the UN Secretary General Special Representative, submitted the first comprehensive proposal. In response our government, although well far from our views, accepted the document as a basis for negotiations. Skopje, on the other hand, refused the proposal. A few months later, Mr. Nimetz presented another, second, proposal Skopje accepted, Athens rejected it as 100% unbalanced. Be that as it may, we have to think positively and look to the future. In the danger of repeating myself, I would like to be crystal clear: the Greek people desire a solution that will lead to the complete normalisation of our bilateral relations, will facilitate the course of our neighbouring country towards Euro-Atlantic institutions and will strengthen stability and cooperation in our region.

4. Mrs. Bakoyannis, You as Foreign Minister as well as other Greek officials recently started with warnings that there is no Greek Parliament which will ratify accession of Macedonia in NATO and EU before name issue is resolved, but that same Greek Parliament ratified the Agreement for stabilization and association between EU and Macedonia. Don’t you think that such warnings are not in accordance with Interim Agreement and that with such a move Greece would “break” the same agreement?

I am not one to mince my words. I value straight talk – especially amongst good friends. We cannot put our heads in the sand. When I spoke of no Greek Parliament ratifying the accession of your country in NATO and the EU, I simply recognised the prospect of an undeniable reality. This realisation is not breaking the Interim Agreement, the same agreement which is asking both our countries to find a solution to the issue of the name. Now, we want to see your country within the framework of both NATO and the EU, thus as you said, our parliament did ratify the Agreement for Stabilization and Association with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which was a very significant step forward towards European integration. We want a strong state on our borders. A strong state with healthy economic growth, well-established rule of law and effective institutions in which all citizens – regardless of their religion or ethnicity – can place their confidence. This is not merely a wish. We are doing everything in our power to assist in every possible way, as we did with our other two friends, Romania and Bulgaria. You can be sure that once a mutually-accepted agreement is reached on the name, the Greek Parliament will be the first to ratify your accession to NATO and the EU. 

5. For a longer time Greece is promoting itself as locomotive of the Balkans. Does Greece have such a power and which is the motive and interest to play that role?

Greece strongly believes in our region’s potential, which is tremendous. Over 3,500 Greek companies are present in the Balkans, having invested more than 12 billion euros. Greek capital has created tens of thousands of new jobs and has thus I believe strengthened our region’s economies.

In the past few years, the Balkans are steadily transforming into a stable region that should become an integral part of the European Union. Greek foreign policy is playing an active, and I believe, constructive role in this process. Greece has strongly supported the integration of the whole of South-East Europe into one European family. Our overall political direction has been based on a very simple principle: if we are to have peace and prosperity on the continent, European integration cannot be fragmented. We believe the new Europe that is being born will be even richer, stronger and more enduring if it includes South-Eastern Europe.

Greece promotes the creation of a single economic space in the area which will act as a catalyst in the completion of the enlargement process. We have five major objectives: first, to support the completion of a Free Trade Area that will include all of our neighbours and replace the complex bilateral agreements between countries in the region currently in force. 

Second, the promotion of major transport corridors linking the whole region; to that end, for example, we are financing sections of Corridor X, which connects Thessaloniki, Skopje and Belgrade to Central and Eastern Europe.

Third, the promotion of a single energy market.

Fourth, the creation of major energy hubs transcending the Balkans and connecting the whole of South-Eastern Europe; for example, the pipeline connecting Skopje with Thessaloniki.

Fifth, the promotion of policies for the unification of the Balkan economic space into multiple sectors through development assistance.  For instance, this will include the internet linking of Balkan research and educational institutions and will facilitate the development of high-speed internet in the wider region.

6. Few years ago, speaking at the George Town University, You emphasized the importance of respecting the minorities’ rights. Then you didn’t mention the existence of Macedonian minority in Greece, and that position is not changed today. Macedonians are a fact for Council of Europe, for European parliament, for the State Department… except for the Government in Athens. Can we expect some changes in the politics toward Macedonian national minority and does Your Government plan to support the project of printing the ABECEDAR?

I am very proud of the quality of Greek democracy. All citizens of Greece have equal rights. Now, as I am sure you know, in Greece there is only one minority: the Muslims of Western Thrace. There is no so-called “Macedonian minority”. Whenever a political formation emerged in the name of such a quote-unquote “minority” it has never managed to obtain any popular support whatsoever.

7. There are some differences between Greek Government and Contact Group also had meetings with Serbian officials. What is your position regarding the future of Kosovo?

Unfortunately, despite months of negotiations no concrete progress has been achieved so far. The policy of Greece on this issue is clear. We believe we must not risk achieving a long-lasting and viable solution for the sake of meeting a pre-set deadline. International relations are dynamic rather than static. Adaptability is of essence. Hence, if the need arises for more time for the parties to achieve the best possible results, I believe it should be given to them. In this respect, we should not underestimate the domestic politics on each side, and should provide the opportunity for everyone involved to have a voice. We also believe that it is important to encourage the maintenance of democratic and human rights’ standards, especially when it comes to the protection of minorities. History in the Balkans has not been kind to minorities and their rights. It is time to change that once and for all. 

Most importantly, we must start preparing both in Kosovo and Serbia for the Day After. In Kosovo today, independence is seen as a magic wand which, once waved, will provide employment, stable electricity, education, health, prosperity for all. Yet, we all know that independence is no panacea. We have to work very hard so that Kosovo does not fail to deliver on its promises to the people.  More than half of Kosovo’s population is under 30. Unemployment is the highest in Europe and opportunities are the lowest. The people of Kosovo deserve a better future. When it comes to Serbia, we must remember the lessons of history that teach us that neither a country’s humiliation, nor one’s absolute victory guarantees peace and stability in the long term. This is even more pertinent in the case of Serbia, one of the most significant states in South-Eastern Europe. The lessons of the Weimar Republic remain as potent as ever.

8.  Europe is trying to define its borders, and the main dilemma is Turkey. You said that you will be constructive, but it seems that such constructivism needs a much deeper dialog with Ankara, because of Cyprus issue. What will be your position regarding Turkey?

Greece supports Turkey’s bid to become a full member of the EU. As you know, Turkey must fulfill certain concrete political, economic, and institutional criteria in order to join the EU. I want to be very clear here.

The EU is built on a shared legal and civic culture. It is important for Turkey, like all candidate countries before her, to proceed with the necessary reforms it has pledged to enact including, amongst others, the full implementation of the additional protocol of the Ankara Agreement. Once Turkey makes the necessary adjustments, she should be granted full entry to the European Union. Regarding Cyprus, a new solution is now being sought which, in our view, must take into consideration not only the work done by the UN, but also the plain fact that Cyprus is a member of the European Union.

9. In what kind political atmosphere were the local elections in Greece and would you like to comment the result, regarding the situation in the country as well as in the region. Is it possible premature general elections to be organized in Greece next year and do you see the PASOK as a respectable rival of Nea Demokratia?

The atmosphere of all elections in Greece has been very peaceful for decades now. In the recent local elections, Nea Demokratia has verified its political supremacy, but PASOK, as you say, always remains its most serious political rival. Fortunately, in recent decades, there is considerable consensus on the most serious issues, especially on foreign policy, between the two major parties.

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