The Slovenia Times

Macedonian Minister Says Crisis Hurting Talks with Greece


Although the name dispute with Greece has been hindering Macedonia's EU and NATO accession for years, the minister says the countries are no closer to a solution. "I think that the economic crisis has brought the issue even further than what it was before."

"The fact is that because of the economic crisis... the resolution of the name issue has really been dropped off the political agenda in Athens."

Macedonia is thus affected by the crisis in Greece twofold: on the economic level, as Greece is one of its main economic partners, and on the political level, due to the stalemate in the name dispute.

The prospects of a new election in Greece on 17 June bring "new uncertainties", according to the minister.

A further problem Poposki sees in this context is that Greece was found to have acted illegally by the International Court of Justice in the Hague in December 2011 when it blocked Macedonia's accession to NATO in 2008 but it is not being punished in any way for this.

The court ruled that Greece violated a bilateral agreement from 1995, when it agreed that it would not block Macedonia's accession to international organisation if Macedonia agrees to some concessions, including changing of its flag and using the name put forward by the UN.

The recent NATO summit in Chicago, which was also attended by Poposki, did not touch on the ICJ decision. This was said to have been the last NATO summit where the issue of NATO enlargement was not broached, Poposki says.

Macedonia has been in line for membership since 2008 and it has fulfilled all the criteria.

"In practice everybody knows that it is unsustainable to allow a member state of NATO to be in violation of international law. However, decisions are made by consensus and the dominating perception is that without Greece agreeing to stop blocking our accession there is no instrument to move things forward."

Poposki believes this "challenges the rule of law within the alliance but this doesn't seem to disturb Greece or affect its decision-making process".

Turning to the effects of the crisis in Greece on Macedonia, the minister says that trade decreased and that secondary effects of Greece's problems are also felt in Macedonia. "Much of our exports go through the port of Thessaloniki, so each time that Greek administration goes on strike our companies pay penalties."

Macedonia would not want to see Greece exit the eurozone, as this would cause "quite a shock" in the economy. "This would also affect other economies in the region," Poposki believes.

Touching on the role of Slovenia is the efforts of Western Balkan countries to join the EU, Poposki praised this role as being "very positive". Slovenia has connections with the candidate countries and is also an EU and NATO member and as such it represents an encouragement to other countries in the region, he believes.

The minister is also happy with the cooperation between the two countries. In less than a month, six top level visits took place, while trade and investments are increasing despite the crisis, he noted.

"We have very concrete projects in fields like environment protection, energy and thermal waters management." The minister hopes that more Macedonian companies will be able to do business in Slovenia.

Macedonia is also interested in Slovenia's model of rural tourism, which Poposki deems very successful.


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