Интервјуа

In an exclusive interview with Ta Nea, FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev expresses the conviction that political problems are solved by implementing a new policy, and not by changing borders.

Speaking on the eve of a crucial parliamentary vote on the constitutional amendments required to meet the terms of the Prespa Agreement, Zaev says he expects MPs to respect the will of citizens who voted in the 30 September referendum on the accord, with over 90 percent in favour, who he said voted for their country’s membership in the EU and Nato.
If parliament does not approve, Zaev says he will call a general election.
Zaev underlines that the time has come for a different Balkans, which will have left behind biases and its reputation as a powder keg, to become a source of stability.
Zaev praises Alexis Tsipras for his courage during negotiations, and in a message to New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, he says that Balkan leaders should recognise challenges and rise to the occasion.

How likely is it to find the 11 votes you need in order to pass the constitutional review by the Parliament?
In accordance with the strategic priorities – membership in NATO and The EU, the Government of the Republic of Macedonia undertook the obligation to prepare a proposal of draft amendments to constitutional changes, which has been the following stage as established in the Prespa Agreement between our country and the Republic of Greece.
Considering the historical importance and the urgency that the moment calls for, the Government I lead took an initiative and made a decision to submit the proposal of draft amendments to constitutional changes to the Parliament, and with that, asked from the Parliament to begin with this procedure.
Now, all Members of Parliament, regardless of political affiliation, have a historical duty in service of the citizens, to secure the road for our country towards stability, security and economic prosperity. That is the road towards EU and NATO that passes through the Prespa Agreement.
It is expected from our Members of Parliament to make a decision in that line, as a demonstration of respect of the will of the majority of citizens who voted on the referendum, but also for respect of the will of about 80% of the citizens who continuously approve and call for the membership of our country in NATO and The EU.
The people made a very important choice. The majority of citizens who voted on the referendum supported one question, one vision and one goal for the future of our country, which is only a step away to accomplish.
The fulfillment of this vision is now in the hands of every Member of Parliament, separately and depends on them. They need to make a decision demonstrating that they want to make our country a safe and good place to live for every citizen.

If they are not found, are you obviously going to hold elections? 
If the Members of Parliament from VMRO-DPMNE continue to refuse to take responsibility and remain on the positions that threaten the future of our country, the parliamentary majority will vote for early elections.

Do you fear instability if you do not avoid the most ‘problematic scenario’? 
In the past period, the politics of the government I lead, strengthened and deepened the friendship with all our neighbors. The Government succeeded to close all open bilateral issues by respecting the principles of open dialogue, mutual understanding and readiness for finding solutions.
Today, our country has no open issues with any of our neighbors. We respect all our neighbors and we are building our friendship by investing in development of the cooperation and the trade.
At the same time, we support and encourage the efforts of all our neighbors to solve open issues and overcome the misunderstandings in the interest of their bilateral relations, but also in the interest of the stability, cooperation and prosperity of the whole region. We believe that problems are solved with implementing new politics instead of marking new borders. I believe that solving the dispute between our countries and our people is a historical moment and source of stability for the Balkans and for Europe.

The scenario of border changes, as a follow-up to developments in fYROM, how do you evaluate it? 
If your question relates to the issue of the Belgrade-Pristina relations, the Government of the Republic of Macedonia believes that the Balkan doesn’t need new conflicts.
Only united together, the countries of our region can develop faster, easier, and accomplish the shared EU aspirations through mutual cooperation for creating better living conditions for the citizens.
The Republic of Macedonia supports a positive solution for Kosovo. A solution that will improve the well-being of Serbs, Albanians and all other citizens living in Kosovo. A solution that will guarantee the peace, security and prosperity of Serbia, Kosovo and the whole region. It is crucial for all leaders here in this region to be united around our common goals, and those are lasting peace, regional cooperation, economic development and EU membership.

Why do you think you did not get the best possible participation in the referendum? 
More than 660.000 citizens voted on the referendum. From those who voted, more than 90% chose “FOR” The Republic of Macedonia to accept the Agreement with Greece and to become a member of NATO and The EU.
In order to reach the census threshold, there were supposed to be a turnout of 903.169 citizens, out of which 451.585 should have voted “FOR”. On the referendum held on the 30th of September 609.813 citizens voted “FOR”. Isn’t that an expression of the will of the citizens?!
At elections or a referendum, the people who go out and vote are those that make the decision.
Since the referendum was consultative, and not mandatory, it is now up to the Members of Parliament, chosen by the people, to make a decision respecting and following the interests of the citizens, the country and their personal duty.

If it ever happened again, would you avoid something? Perhaps the great support from the West, which some people think that it served as a boomerang? 
At a time when we are setting the future course of our country, all our friends from the international community have acknowledged this is a historical moment and have approved the politics of our government on the road to EU and NATO. The success is easier to reach when you have supportive friends.
Our friends have told us to bravely remain on the road we are paving for reaching prosperity and well-being for all our citizens and for all people in the region.
Their aspiration to see our country as equal partner in the great alliances is sincere and strong.
Our friends from the international community assist the process to confirm that they acknowledge our identity and statehood – that is a demonstration of respect for all the citizens of our country.

How crucial was the role of Russia in this story? Do you think there was an involvement, what kind and to what extent? 
We nurture traditionally friendly relations with the Russian Federation and we will continue to develop our relations and cooperation.
The economic and cultural cooperation, as well as cooperation in the area of agriculture, is on a very high level and we expect it to intensify.
I am convinced there is awareness, and there has to be awareness, that world peace is a global interest, and for that we need stable and secure countries that develop according to the path they have chosen.
Over 80% of the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia are for membership of our country in The EU and NATO. Those are our strategic goals, our right and responsibility, for which there is no alternative. We are careful and we follow the situation.

The overwhelming majority of the Greek people – as depicted in the Gallups – opposes the agreement. What is your message to the dissenters? 
We are fully aware that there are political circles in your country that find this to be a very sensitive issue.
Our message is one and the same for the ruling and oppositional political factors in Greece, and in fact, to all the citizens: Let us maintain the good spirit and strong political will from Prespa and allow that spirit to guide us and establish our relations in the future. Together, we have a unique chance to send a strong signal for stability in the region and Europe, together we have an opportunity to mark a success in history as a serious investment for the future.
It is our duty to continue to secure the conditions on both sides for a political ambient that will allow for complete fulfillment of the contract. We are setting the risks to minimum, since much is at stake to leave things to chance. We believe there is no better agreement for both sides, than this one.

The crucial question for those who put the negotiation in the balance is: Greece, apart from the name, ‘grants’ language and ethnicity. What does fYROM ‘grant’? 
The obligations and duties for both countries stem from the provisions and the spirit of the Agreement between both sides.
I do not want to discuss about concessions, and who gave someone something or took something away. I want to discuss about the solutions in the Agreement that have unlocked an issue that was seriously entangled and blocked. The key is in the solutions that open up perspectives for the future, and not in the concessions.
The solution for the name of our country and for recognizing the specificity of our identity, which as Macedonian comes from our unique traits, which are different from the Hellenic, should be found in the solutions that envisage changes in our Constitution, with guarantee for inviolability of the borders. According to your wording, those are the concessions that our country is making.
Both sides in the Agreement for solving the dispute have a serious homework assignment that needs to be worked on. Both governments in the Agreement have clearly and precisely predicted all the steps that need to be made, or the processes that need to be initiated in order to secure the institutional support for their realization.
One of those processes is creating conditions for secure parliamentary and political majority for implementing the constitutional changes.

In practice, can there be a smooth coexistence when so many large sections of the population on both sides of the border disagree?
The majority of the citizens in both countries want a solution, want peace, stability and progress. I see my country, including the other Balkan countries in the same way that my citizens see it: Modern, economically stable and socially responsible state according to the EU standards and the standards of the members states of the Union.
It is time to give the world a different Balkans, A Balkans of countries that have left their prejudices and historical concessions behind, and have shifted focus towards the well-being of their citizens, towards building good-neighborly relations.
It is time to rebrand the Balkan region from the stereotype “Bure Baruta” (Powder Keg) to “Source of Stability”. A region that produces peace, cooperation, connectivity, dynamic fluctuation of people and ideas.
We are actively working on creating conditions for a positive outcome from the Prespa Agreement and the implementation of the second part of the Agreement that we talk so little of, entitled ‘Intensifying and enriching the cooperation between both sides’.
We recognize good will on the other side too.
The atmosphere of goodwill, political maturity and readiness for overcoming this issue, we can come to a solution very soon.
Let us not miss the moment. Let us not seek answers that are good for one side only. Let us keep on searching for the true answer, mutually acceptable for both sides.

How close were we in adopting the name «Republic of Ilinden» and where did it finally stumble?
In the negotiations, we reached a point when we considered that the name Ilinden Macedonia provides a good basis for a final solution. Then we agreed that we will ask for a wider political consensus in both countries. The Greek political circles didn’t provide sufficient support for the suggestion, after which we moved to another solution entailing a geographical point of reference that will specify our name. In all complex processes there are successful and unsuccessful steps, but most importantly, we overcame that situation and found a solution that is acceptable for both sides.

What other names were seriously considered during the negotiation?
Other names that were discussed during the negotiations are the ones that came as suggestions from mediator Nimetz, that were generally with geographical or time adjective. We accepted a geographical point of reference, confirming the undisputable geographical and territorial facts.

Was there any time you feared that the deal would not be achieved? And why?
I assure you that the whole process, from the moment it was taken over by ministers Kotzias and Dimitrov and their teams, and since me and Prime Minister Tsipras and our teams got involved, we were driven by the motivation and focus for finding a solution.
We knew there must be a solution, otherwise there wouldn’t be such political and personal will from everyone that has participated in the process.
Of course, the highly respected and experienced mediator Matthew Nimetz was here, but he was wise and knew when to actively participate and when it was more important to let us walk alone through the labyrinth towards the solution.
Such a complex and sensitive problem requires delicate, careful and responsible behavior in every moment. That is how we have been behaving in this whole process.
This was not an issue to be solved by ‘bulldozer’ diplomacy, as some have thought to be the case.

How would you characterize the negotiating stance of Athens throughout the last critical period?
I characterize it as a strong political will to change the image of the Balkans, to provide the region a new Balkans, a Balkans of the 21st century, in which the past and the shadows of history will not interfere as unsolvable problems in the common European future.
We wanted to relieve the burden from the heritage we have as a “Bure Baruta” Balkan region.
We were motivated by the wish to provide the world with a solution that is an outcome of a European approach in searching for answers.
I accepted to fully invest myself, as a person and as a politician, to provide a solution for my country and my fellow citizens for the blockade that we have been facing for more than 3 decades.
The Greek government had a genuine interest to solve the issue. At the same time, they advocated your national interests strongly, as we did ours. Negotiations were not easy. But we realize that if we have courage to make a compromise then it would benefit both countries, stability in region and consolidate Euro-Atlantic structures. I want to personally thank Prime Minister Tsipras for having that courage and for sharing the vision of a peaceful and prosperous Balkans as integral part of EU.

In the end, was your meeting with the representative of the New Democracy, Maria Spyraki, accidental or not? And how many meetings were there? One or two? 
I had a brief coffee conversation with Ms. Maria Spyraki, at the hotel where I was staying, close to the European Parliament, as I did with many MEPs or politicians from different countries during that visit to Brussels.

What is your message to the President of New Democracy, Kyriakos Mitsotakis? 
It is always a good moment to call for and demonstrate that the Balkan politicians also know how to rise above the challenges and work in the interest of their citizens, who in turn expect from us to build good-neighbourly relations.
To all political leaders, I would like to point out the value of the new politics and the new societal image of our country: from a crisis-potential country, we have developed into a country that cooperates and decides to solve the most complex issues.
I hope everyone can recognize that we are actively creating conditions for a positive outcome of the whole process that has opened between our countries and promises a better future.
I would suggest and encourage him to take part in the new trends that provide a reason to the world to consider the Balkans as a region of emancipated and friendly neighbours. We have a unique chance to jointly mark a success in history, as a serious investment for the future.

The Prime Minister Zoran Zaev yesterday attended the Hardtalk interview on BBC World News and the BBC News Channel.


Source

After many lost years, 2018 might become historic for the Republic of Macedonia, and for its EU and NATO future. Positive changes are coming on the wings of the new government’s determination to implement the necessary reforms and bring stability and prosperity to a country that has long been shackled by internal political disputes and battles with Greece over the official name of the country.

“If we all focus on finding a solution for the dispute with Greece, 2018 can be a year to remember for the Republic of Macedonia, but also for the region, and for the EU and NATO. Therefore, I am a tireless optimist,” says Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev, whose country recently fulfilled all conditions to commence negotiation with the EU. It is with the same hope that the country is expecting an invitation to join NATO in July.

Macedonia received a recommendation to start EU accession talks back in 2005 and was almost invited to join NATO as far back as 2008. However, progress has been stalled ever since, due to the country’s unresolved name dispute with neighbouring Greece. Do you consider the reaching of agreement with Greece over the name of Macedonia today as a symbolic or far-reaching decision that opens the door to Macedonia’s future?

– The Decision of the European Commission to provide a crystal-clear recommendation to the European Council, stating that the Republic of Macedonia has fulfilled all conditions for launching negotiations with the EU, has confirmed the policies of the current government. In just 10 months, we have unravelled processes that were deeply ensnared by the irresponsible behaviour of the previous government and the political crisis. I expect 2018 to bring new significant positive changes in PRIORITIES For us, the external priorities – Euro-Atlantic integrations – mean real opportunities for the more efficient realisation of domestic priorities the realisation of the country’s strategic Euro-Atlantic goals and the quality of life of the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia. We have placed negotiations with Greece on a friendly and dignified level, and my expectations are that they will lead to a solution that brings a good future for the citizens of both Macedonia and Greece, as well as the entire region.

"The changes we make – nationally, internationally, internally – are multidimensional and will yield the expected results in stages"

During his visit to Macedonia, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that “if you continue with the reforms for a few more months, you will allow the [European] Commission to address to the Council [of the EU] an invitation to start accession negotiations”. How close do you think you are today to achieving this goal?

– The announcements and forecasts by EC President Juncker proved to be based on real foundations that he built with consideration for our real achievements. Our vigorous and committed efforts in the reform process are currently resulting in 95% implementation of the Reform Plan 3-6-9. The Government, in broad consultations with the expert public and the civil sector, and through inclusive policies with political entities in the country, submitted the package of reform laws to the Parliament. As is visible to both the domestic and international public, the adoption of laws based on the recommendations of the EC and the remarks of the Reinhard Priebe Expert Group began with a broad consensus. I see awareness of the responsibility that we all – the Government, the opposition, the citizens – have for our future, for the future of our country, and the future of a stable and secure Europe. And I also see that the European Commission recognises and values our work, which propels Macedonia and the region forward. And that’s why a clear recommendation came, and in June I expect a date for the start of the Republic of Macedonia’s accession negotiations with the EU.

Over the past two years, the EU additionally conditioned its recommendation with demands for the holding of democratic elections and the fulfilment of urgent reform priorities drafted in the so-called Priebe Report. From this perspective, which reforms are the most pressing, and what has your government done to date to address them?

– All urgent reform priorities are addressed through amendments to the legal solutions that the Government has submitted to the Parliament and, as I said, their adoption has started. This refers to reforms that have begun in the operations of the secret services, protected witness laws that were adopted by a two-thirds majority, the establishment of an independent body, the OTA (Operational Technical Agency), the monitoring of communications, and the voting on laws for ensuring an independent judiciary and rule of law. We also anticipate legal changes that will ensure the professional work of the media, institutions that work in the interest of citizens, an efficient and non-partisan public administration, an electoral law that gives confidence etc. In short, we are creating an efficient state system that will guarantee rights and justice in the Republic of Macedonia, in accordance with European democratic standards. That is also what we need as citizens; we need it to provide a stable climate for investments that will result in the creation of new jobs and economic development, and the opening of the doors to the EU and NATO. We believe sincerely in the benefits of these European values, which is why we succeeded in making such a step in this short period of time.

"The Balkans have always been a point of interception for wider geostrategic goals. But if we are all focused towards world peace, stability, security and economic development, then everything will be easier."

Many believe that NATO membership opens the door to a future in the EU, and not vice versa. What are your expectation from the NATO summit in July in that respect, both in the short and the long run?

– The reform process that we have started, as well as the policies of good neighbourly relations, contribute to European and Atlantic integration. We are working simultaneously on achieving both of these strategic goals. Yes, the Republic of Macedonia has an open invitation for NATO, which will come into effect as soon as there is a solution to the dispute with Greece. I believe it’s clear to everyone that this is the moment when this can be achieved and, if we all focus on finding a solution, 2018 can be a year to remember for the Republic of Macedonia, but also for the region, the EU and NATO. Therefore, I am a tireless optimist and I expect an invitation to join NATO in July.

The Western Balkans is seen by many as a back door to the rivalry between Russia and the West. How do you perceive this in the context of Macedonia’s political life and your interactions with neighbouring countries?

– The Balkans have always been a point of interception for wider geostrategic goals. But if we are all focused towards world peace, stability, security and economic development, then everything will be easier. Citizens of Western Balkan countries are largely determined in their wish for democracy, respect for human rights, freedom and justice. The Euro-Atlantic commitments of the majority of citizens of Western Balkan countries are clear, just as it is clear that the countries of the Western Balkans all need friendly economic relations with all countries worldwide.

Do you consider that the Western Balkans is today closer to its role as a factor of stability in this part of the world, or is it still a fragile underbelly of Europe?

The Western Balkans has shown that there can be sincere, en- ergetic and committed political leaders who want, can and know how to assess what their citizens need, while at the same time being more comprehensive and willing, without calculations, to set the countries on the right track. Therefore, if the Western Balkans has ever been firm in its orientation towards a common future, that time is now. And this is a very important juncture. We recognised the needs for interconnection and cooperation, and we showed Europe that it can only be whole, safe and stable with the full integration of all countries that belong to it geographically, historically and culturally. We are undoubtedly a factor of stability in Europe, not of instability. The fact that Europe has recognised this and decided to reach out to the Western Balkans should be welcomed.

From the Macedonian perspective, what are the substantial outcomes, if any, of the Berlin Process?

I have already mentioned some of them: connection and cooperation between the countries of the region. We started working and have already received the first results in the infrastructural connectivity agreed at the Trieste Summit, the establishment of a regional economic zone – the business community is already cooperating actively, there are more cus- toms incentives in flows of goods and people, the harmonisation of legislation and, last but not least, we have the Digital Summit in Skopje… It is one thing that Europe has asked for such unification in the Western Balkans, but it is more important that the countries themselves have realised that if they are joined together they can be a bigger, more attractive and more respectable partner at the European level and worldwide, regardless of whether that is on the economic market or in other areas. That will also improve quality of life for the citizens of our countries. Therefore, we view the Berlin Process with great seriousness and are focused on how we can provide our contribution to it and even lead the process, in the interest of the whole region.

How do you see the roles of Turkey and China in the region, and in Macedonia specifically? What are the po- litical and economic dimensions of their stronger role in the Balkans?

Turkey and China, like Russia, are traditionally good friends of the Republic of Macedonia. We have excellent cooperation in the fields of the economy, culture, education and agriculture, and I only expect to deepen relations in these and all other areas of im- portance for the everyday lives of our countries’ citizens. I believe that there is interest among the countries of the region, as well as the Republic of Macedonia, in friendly, principled cooperation, based on healthy democratic relations with all countries in the world, because peace, security, stability and economic prospects are of national interest, but are also global needs.

Considering that your government has so many tasks to address both the national and international fronts, how do you assess the capacities of your team to face all challenges?

I have formed a Government widely set at both the political and civic levels – to restore the democracy in the country, to reinvigorate institutions, to deal with the consequences of the decade-long regime system.

Yes, thorough reforms are needed, goodwill is needed, sincere politics of friendship are needed, we need a firm belief that we are on the right track – and we have all proven that it is there. But it is also necessary to change the awareness of perceiving things since it is not possible for the 10-year regime not to leave any consequences in the collective sense of perception of things and actions. Therefore, you are right, the changes we make – nationally, internationally, internally – are multidimensional and will give the expected results in stages, but if you’re asking if they have already started to deliver results, I would say yes, and I am satisfied when I hear that from citizens and our friends from the international community, who almost always start their meetings with us by remarking that positive, energetic changes in Macedonia can be felt. – We still haven’t completed a year of our mandate. I analyse, monitor the reactions of citizens, listen to the opinions of every citizen, and it will all be seen whether and where strengthening is needed among expert, professional, efficient, honest, accountable, transparent and, above all, responsible authorities for the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia.

How would you assess public support for the changes initiated with the establishment of your government?

I believe that citizens are feeling the positive changes, since gaining the pleasure of having the freedom to say what they think, the freedom to be what they are, the open chances for everyone – there are things that cannot go unnoticed. I am aware that there is some impatience regarding certain essential changes in specific areas that impact directly on the everyday life of citizens; that there is some impatience in us as a Government as well, and that is a good thing, since that civil pressure gives us additional strength to exert maximum efforts for both efficient and quality results. We found a broken system – in every sense of the word; in some places, we laid foundations, in some we started to build, with every new day bringing a qualitative change – sooner or later, but these changes are becoming obvious.

"We are working very seriously on raising living standards, providing higher salaries and new jobs. By doing this, we want to motivate young people to stay in Macedonia."

What do you see as your priorities when it comes to the domestic political scene?

We are working very seriously on raising living standards, 14 | 163 | MAY providing higher salaries and new jobs. By doing this, we want to motivate young people to live and work in our country, since emigration and the outflow of young people and high-quality workers is one of our major problems. We have provided multiple forms of state support for companies and the equal treatment of foreign and domestic companies, and we will continue to act in that direction. We consider that this relaxes the political climate, in addition to building a society for all citizens. I expect to see effective changes in the health and education sectors, while also working on decentralising many services at the local level so that they are easily accessible by citizens.

According to the Constitution, the Republic of Macedonia is a welfare state and our challenge is to tackle the enormous poverty that we have encountered as a condition, while in the meantime providing adequate social protection for everyone in need. For us, the external priorities – Euro-Atlantic integrations – mean real opportunities for the more efficient realisation of domestic priorities, and therefore full stabilisation of the citizens and the state.

How has the Berlin Process impacted on bilateral relations between Serbia and Macedonia? How would you describe these relations today and what are the major factors contributing to their further development?

Both the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia and the citizens of the Republic of Serbia need to live in a modern, European, democratically-developed society. We have friendly relations with Serbia, the citizens of both countries have historically close relations; we have a common past, but also, more importantly, a common future – via integration into the European Union. The Berlin Process is only helping us on that road.

After having almost the same types of economic disputes with Serbia over agricultural products, would you say that the two sides are now closer to finding a sustainable solution for these issues?

– There is a solution for every open issue if there is a will to make one. We are determined to solve agriculture issues, as well as all other issues, through dialogue – as should be done by a country that aspires to be part of the Euro-Atlantic family. The Republic of Macedonia provides reasons, and will further give even more compelling reasons, to have and maintain the great support it receives from the international community in achieving these goals.


Source

LONDON (Reuters) - Macedonia is looking at four options to settle a decades-long dispute with Greece over its name, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

The small ex-Yugoslav republic and its southern neighbor Greece have agreed to step up negotiations this year to resolve the dispute, which has frustrated Skopje’s ambition to join NATO and the European Union.

Athens, which like all members of both organizations has a veto over admissions, objects to the use of the name Macedonia, arguing that it, along with articles in Skopje’s constitution, could imply territorial claims over a northern Greek region of the same name.

Macedonia hopes the issue can be resolved in time for an EU meeting in June and a NATO summit in July, and is proposing a geographical ‘qualifier’ to ensure there is clear differentiation in the two names.

“The suggestions are Republic of North Macedonia, Republic of Upper Macedonia, Republic of Vardar Macedonia and Republic of Macedonia (Skopje),” Zaev said in a television interview after attending a summit on the Western Balkans in London.

Asked whether Greece would be happy with one of these options he added: “Yes ... They have more preferred options and some not so preferred options (in terms of the name).”

He said the question that remained was whether there was “a real need” to change Macedonia’s constitution, something Greece had also asked for in recent months.

DIGNITY

Greece’s demand for an amendment of references to the ‘Republic of Macedonia’ in the national constitution could prove the toughest issue unless some room for maneuver can be found.

The foreign ministers of the two countries are due to hold further talks and Zaev also plans to meet Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in March.

“Of course we hope we would find a solution (on the constitution). But we must take care about the dignity and identity of both sides because friends take care of each other,” he said.

Several thousand people gathered in Skopje on Tuesday evening to protest against negotiations with Greece. They waved Macedonian flags and held banners reading “Stop Greek racism” and “Stop negotiations.” A Greek flag was set on fire during the protest.

Asked what changes Greece wanted to the name in the constitution and what issues Skopje might have with that, Zaev used the examples of Germany and Greece which also have national variations of their names in their own constitutions.

“We are prepared to do a change,” Zaev said, adding however that it would not be by very much “because it is very difficult”.

“They (Greece) don’t have a region of the Republic of Macedonia, they are the Republic of Greece. And inside (our country) how we use it to communicate, from ministries to municipalities and other institutions, is really our right and doesn’t have implications for anybody.”

Zaev later contacted Reuters through his spokesman to say that his position was that “a solution can be found without a change of the constitution of the Republic of Macedonia”.

If an agreement between the two countries can finally be found, Macedonia will then hold a referendum to ask its population of around two million to back the change.

“I think if we save dignity - that is the important thing - of course the citizens will support it. Why? Because it is that (on which) depends our integration in NATO and the European Union.”


Source

In the past year we introduced confidence building measures with Greece and we have completely new quality in bilateral relations, Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said in the interview with the Austrian Die Presse daily.

Poposki also underlined that since Macedonia’s independence there has never been a period of such intensified cooperation with Greece.

Asked whether he expects Greece to lift the blockade in the EU against Macedonia, Poposki said he would be too optimistic to say when it would exactly happen. However the atmosphere is changed and it is a good prerequisite for something to happen in this direction, Poposki said.

He said that European Council made mistake in 2009 because it did not accept the recommendation of the European Commission for opening accession negotiations with Macedonia.

Now we have received the eighth EC recommendation to open accession negotiations. We received the first EC recommendation in 2009. European Council then made big mistake by not accepting the recommendation. And Greece sought postponement of the start of accession negotiations. Impression was created in the European Council that negotiations will be only be briefly postponed and that the name dispute will be resolved as soon as possible, Poposki said.

Related to the criticism for corruption and interference in the judiciary in the latest EC Progress Report on Macedonia, Poposki said that there are several critical points that note problems in all countries in the region, regardless whether they are EU or non-EU members. The rule of law or efficiency of administration are points where we must show progress. This applies to Macedonia as well as to Serbia, Montenegro and Albania. Still the greatest progress was achieved during the negotiations for EU membership. Therefore, the biggest mistake was postponement of the start of accession negotiations with Macedonia for 8 years, Poposki said.

Referring to the EU-Turkey relations and whether refugee deal between EU and Ankara could fail, Poposki said he did not believe it would happen.

We have not reached the point where deal can fail. Turkey needs allies and not the EU – and especially Germany needs deal aimed at preventing last year’s situation. No politician cannot allow the entry of so many refugees and especially not Germany, where elections in 2017 will be held. I do not think that anyone want to jeopardize the EU-Turkey deal.

In regard to the wave of migrants and how Macedonia is dealing with it, Poposki said that 20 to 50 illegal entrances are registered every day i.e. since the beginning of the year, more than 30.000 people tried to illegally cross the border which is far less compared to the last year when 40.000 people crossed the border every day.

But it should be clear that the crisis has not been surpassed. I would not rule out situation when again more people would use the Balkan route. Poposki said that if the situation remains as it is now, then there will be no need for additional Austrian officers who help the Macedonian army and police on the southern border. 

 

You took over one of the most important posts in the country. What will be your biggest priorities?

“The main priority is enabling the opening of new jobs, as well as improvement of the citizens’ standard of life, attracting foreign and supporting domestic investments, continuous improvement of the business environment and strengthening of the fiscal discipline.

In light of the main priority, we recently presented, and should begin implementation next month, of the project “Macedonia is hiring 2” – the sequel to a very important economic measure of the government that yielded 19.000 new jobs in just one year, with a further 15-20.000 expected over the next period, totaling 40.000 new jobs from this measure alone. The numbers are extraordinary, considering they mean providing sources for 40.000 families in Macedonia through one measure.

The current unemployment rate is the lowest in the history of the country. More than 150.000 new jobs were created over the last ten years. It represents an additional challenge for an even more intensive action towards solving the structural unemployment problems, which have dragged for several decades, as well as promoting the active approach of the labor market that provides a better coordination between the supply and demand of labor.

Foreign investments play an important role in the creation of new jobs. The foreign investors bring new technologies, new knowledge, experience and new standards that add value to the Macedonian export and the Macedonian workers, who become more competitive on the labor market through training. Last year, there were 30 foreign investments in Macedonia, while 17 foreign companies announced their investment and/or began construction and production in the first five months of the year. By the end of 2016, we expect at least as many companies to decide to invest in Macedonia.

At the same time, we are working on networking of domestic companies that will cooperate with foreign partners, eventually resulting in transfer of knowledge, good business practices, increased production and increased number of employees at the domestic companies.

The increase in employment of qualified workers will lead to an increased need of such workers, which will lead to an increase of their salaries.

The investments are not possible without a good business climate, which is something the government is actively working on. The activities for improvement of the business environment, aimed at simplification of the regulation and procedures, increased flexibility of the labor market and better access to funds will continue over the next period.

Domestic investments are equally important as the foreign. That is why it is important to provide liquidity of the domestic companies through good credit lines, such as the 350 million euros from the Macedonian Bank for Development Promotion, the Innovation Fund, but primarily through low taxes and a generally good business climate. Macedonia’s taxes are the lowest in Europe, which enables the companies to invest their funds in business development.

A continuous and sustainable economic growth is possible only through export-oriented and competitive private sector, based on products and services with high added value.

How do you think that your previous position and experience as Director of the Public Revenue Office will benefit you as Minister of Finance?

“Being Director of PRO certainly is a good foundation. The Ministry of Finance creates policies and laws, while PRO implements them practically. The PRO’s share in the budget’s revenue is more than 65%, making it one of the most important pillars. The activities started during my tenure, which led to an increased tax charge, should continue over the next period for an even greater tax compliance rate. Before being appointed Director of the PRO, I was the Director of the State Market Inspectorate and those two institutions are particularly complex, considering the fact that both include inspection supervision. The emphasis in the communication with the private sector was in the so-called soft approach, which implies communication, education and stimulation of the voluntary compliance. I will continue implementing these good practices in my new position as well. In my opinion, the Minister of Finance should be in constant contact with the businessmen, be directly informed about the problems in the private sector and suggest policies and legal solutions that will work in practice.

I have been actively involved in the reforms of the labor market throughout my professional career through introduction of legal measure for greater flexibility, creation of employment policies, promotion of active measures in the labor market, introduction of the electronic check-in/check-out system, etc. I was also actively involved in the activities for introduction of a third pension pillar as part of the reforms of the Macedonian pension system. I am also experienced in working in projects aimed at reforms of the payment system, improvement of the banking supervision, reduction of the circulation of cash by stimulating the use of credit cards, as well as activities related to improvement of the work of the Macedonian credit bureau. Part of my previous post was the strategy for improvement of the export and strengthening of the capacity of the project “Invest in Macedonia”. I believe that my accumulated experience will be of great benefit to the position of Minister of Finance.

What is your position about the direction of the Macedonian economy?

“The current political turmoil will certainly have an effect on the economy and economic activity. The companies are afraid to invest, the citizens are careful about the consumption of durable goods and the banks are more prudent about giving loans. Despite the solid construction activity, the first quarter recorded a decrease in the gross investments. Such caution during political instability can lead to a smaller economic growth than expected.

We have seen high rates of industrial production growth during last year and early this year. That rate in April, while still positive, has stalled a bit.

A positive moment is that the export is continuing to grow by solid rates, mostly because of the export from the free economic zones.

What is the task of the fiscal policy in conditions when the investments and private consumption are dropping?

Our goal is to secure the liquidity of the private sector through regular payment of salaries, pensions, subsidies and social care while maintaining a certain level of capital expenditure in order to support the economic growth.

Considering the current political situation, are there any budgetary changes planned?

Despite the well-founded economic policies, the political crisis has started to show its effect. That is why certain corrections will have to be made. The rebalance will be a response to the effects of the political crisis and the decreased growth through support of private consumption and public investments. Capital investments are still at a high level, even higher than last year. We will continue implementation of the big infrastructure projects – new highways, regional roads, and local roads, reconstruction of the railway system, as well as new schools and hospitals.

In accordance with the established practice, the announced increases of social care in July and pensions in September will be realized.

Do you plan on issuing a new Eurobond?

Considering the corrected growth projections and the prolonged political crisis in the country, the government gave permission to the Ministry of Finance to explore the market for issuing a Eurobond. Over the next period, a team from the Ministry will explore the market and if good conditions are created, a Eurobond would be issued.

In that direction, and in light of the recent referendum of the citizens of Great Britain to exit the EU, we are carefully following the situation on the world security markets. The results of the referendum will have a direct influence on the movements on the international capital market.

Why is it necessaryy to issue a Eurobond?

The political crisis doesn’t seem to end any time soon. The Eurobond can be seen as a bank guarantee at the National Bank that will provide safety if the political crisis is prolonged.

The influx of fresh capital in the country will serve as a guarantee for the macroeconomic stability and will bring positive movement in the economy, which is influenced by the political crisis. The foreign capital will help reduce the debt in the domestic market, which in turn will increase the crediting funds and motivate the domestic companies to invest. All of this will lead to an increase in the private consumption, resulting in a positive economic activity and bigger economic growth.   

Companies in Macedonia are paying the lowest taxes. Compared to ten years ago, now the state has dropped the collection of profits of companies fivefold, meaning that hundreds of millions of euros in direct assistance from the government are awarded to domestic firms every year, says Deputy PM and Finance Minister Zoran Stavreski.

“In comparison, if the effective tax rate in 2005 and 2006 was nearly 40%, it has been decreased fivefold since then, which means the state now collects five times less from the profit of companies. It is up to the firms to decide themselves where and how these funds will be invested,” Stavreski tells Vecer daily in an interview.

The government, he adds, has been continuously introducing measures to reduce the tax burden of companies. From 2009 until 2015 in the midst of the global and European crisis, the government exempted companies from paying undistributed profits tax. Profits tax has been reduced to zero percent if it is reinvested. Profit tax has been fully cancelled for micro and small businesses with an income up to 3 million denars. Also, the government has reduced rates for pension and health insurance, notes Stavreski.

The Deputy PM states that customs duties have been reduced by 40% since 2006. “As a result, companies can save up to 10 million euros annually,” says Stavreski.

The solid economic results of Macedonia’s economy, i.e. the fourth best economic result in 2015 in Europe in times of political crisis, are the product of well-designed economic policies that are being applied in the country in the past ten years, Stavreski tells Vecer adding that tax policy and the government’s proactive policy towards the economy play an important role in achieving a high economic growth.

 

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in the interview with Leaders Magazine speaks about government's strategic priorities, foreign investments, opportunities for development and stability of the country, refugee crisis...

Leaders magazine was founded in 1978 and deals with world leaders in politics, diplomacy, business, media. Leaders is the only worldwide magazine that deals with the broad range of leadership thoughts and visions of the world's most influential people. It is the one magazine that represents a forum of ideas and opinions on the major issues of change, and that distinguishes the special provinces of the world's leaders.

You have been very forthcoming on a number of goals for your administration. What are those priorities and how have they progressed?

The government has five strategic priorities and they are all, more or less, equally important. The first is to realize our plan to join NATO and the European Union, and to find a solution on how to do this without Greece revoking our membership in both organizations.

Our second very important strategy is connected to the economy. We have opened it for new jobs and outside investors, and created a good business climate and a strong general economy with new jobs.

The third one is connected to keeping good internal relations within the country. Macedonia is a multiethnic country and this is very important. This includes the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement signed in 2001 and assisting in the normalization of relations and creating a better atmosphere between the different ethnic communities.

The next one of our priorities is connected with the rule of law and different kinds of improvements in the quota system and the administration, and in the fight against corruption and criminals.

The fifth of our top priorities is education; not only finding ways to improve its quality but also making education easier and more accessible for all citizens across the country. Connected to this is also innovation, and bringing more of an entrepreneurial spirit to the citizens and, of course, developing many instruments to help do this.

When foreign investors talk about markets that provide opportunity, we don’t always hear about Macedonia but you have built a platform that is open for foreign investment. Is that message and the opportunities and stability Macedonia can offer well understood?

We’re a country that has political stability and macroeconomic stability. Our growth has been about 2 percent per year over the past 15 to 20 years. We have maintained state debt at 36 percent of GDP and public debt at 43.8 percent. Before 2006, state debt was at 40 percent. We have a stable local currency that is fixed to the Euro; and all other items connected to macroeconomic health are stable.

Over the past two years, we reached the second biggest GDP growth in Europe – 3.8 percent – this year, and the year before as well. I hope this year, we will have some very good results in cooperation with all of the European countries.

One of the most attractive advantages that Macedonia offers is one of the lowest costs for doing business in Europe. When I talk about costs, I mean all costs for doing business starting with taxes and custom duties and going to logistics costs, energy costs, labor costs, and so on.

We have the lowest taxes in Europe. Personal income tax in Macedonia is 10 percent and profit tax is 10 percent. If the profit tax is reinvested, it is 0 percent. We decreased customs and duties, we decreased the contributions to the health and pension funds, and we have taken many other steps connected with decreased taxes, such as implementing a flat-rate tax.

Additionally, we created free economic zones with a tax holiday in the first 10 years for companies operating there. This is an important advantage.

We’re also a small country with two million people within 25,000 square kilometers, but we have free trade agreements with all countries in Europe except Russia. This means everything that is produced in Macedonia can be exported to those countries without paying custom duties. Products produced in Macedonia get the same treatment in any country in continental Europe except Russia.

With this step, we overcame the handicap of small markets, and it’s helping us, in combination with low costs and with well-educated people, to be a gateway into Europe. Many companies overseas are buying locations, starting facilities, and cover all of Europe with the products they produce here.

It’s also important that we have improved the business climate over the past nine years. In 2006, when we were elected to the government, the World Bank Doing Business report ranked us at the 96th position; today, we are in the 12th position in the world and 6th in Europe. Only Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries are ahead of us in Europe. That is serious improvement.

In the meantime, we have also been one the top 10 reformers in the world four times and were number three two times, according to the World Bank.

This came as a result of many steps we took. We passed one project involving bureaucratic reform, which made thousands of processes in the country faster or cheaper. We worked together with the Chambers of Commerce and more than 350 companies from different sectors and sizes. We detected all weaknesses in the bureaucracy that they were feeling and eliminated most of them, and we made those that we could not eliminate faster and cheaper to adhere to.

We also changed many things that were disadvantages for our country at the time and made them into advantages. For example, in 2001 and 2002, our Ministry of Finance established for the first time a central register. Today, according to The World Bank, the Macedonia Central Register is number one in Europe, and number 16 in the world.

Another reform relates to the time it takes to create a company. In the past, it took several months to open a company here – today, it takes four hours for those from anywhere in the world. We also have free Internet and low start-up costs.

We offer the electronic payment of taxes and electronic communications with the custom office, and have 100 percent coverage throughout the country for working electronically with clients. Previously, those were all disadvantages and they are now advantages.

Free economic zones are also interesting to investors. For example, outside of the tax holiday where they don’t have to pay personal income tax or profit tax in the first 10 years, there is also no custom duty or VAT for raw materials imported by those companies for the purpose of producing goods that will be exported.

Plus, our latest development, is very low prices – almost free of charge – given on a leasing base of up to 99 years. The government is participating with up to $560,000 for construction of the facilities and also participates in training workers. We have good infrastructure for companies to come and many have come from the United States, the U.K., Germany, Italy, and others.

We have worked hard to not only increase quality of education but also quantity of people who are highly educated. English language is mandatory from elementary school to high school-plus, as well as one additional world language.

We changed the curriculum in basic elementary and secondary school to where it now includes IT, ethics, innovation, business, entrepreneurship, and other subjects that we believe are important for young people in this phase of development of our country.

We also created a rule in which secondary school is mandatory and free of charge, so all children are going to secondary school. Ninety-nine percent of children are finishing secondary school, which is very important for the measures we created. A very high percentage of people are starting university because we are subsidizing higher education. We decreased the price of university to $250 per year.

We also translated more than 1,000 books that are used in the top 10 universities in the world and gave them to different universities in Macedonia from all sectors. We invested a lot of money for buying new laboratories for the faculty that are also used for business, not just for scientists.

We put 5 or 6 percent of GDP every year into education. We also have a high percentage of people under 30 – 41.2 percent of our citizens – and those things are helping us attract more investors.

The biggest challenge in the economy is unemployment. When we entered the government in 2006, the unemployment rate was 38 percent – the highest in Europe. Now, after passing through a difficult period with the financial crises, we have decreased it to 26 percent, which is still high but is 12 percentage points lower than at its peak and, most important, every quarter it continues to decrease. I believe these dynamics over the next two to three years will continue to go even lower. The citizens are recognizing this and supporting the politics.

Do you find that these are all tied together – education, entrepreneurial culture, etc. – and that one leads to the other?

Everything is connected. For example, we are offering companies coming into the country and planning to start a facility and hire 300 to 500 workers the opportunity to adopt the curriculum in the last two years of university study according to their necessities to produce more finished students who can immediately have the capabilities needed.

We have to offer good price, good quality of educated people, and a big pool of trained workers, as this is an advantage for companies coming here. As a result, many companies have recently come to Macedonia.

Would you talk about the refugee crisis?

A very high number of refugees are now transiting through our country. At one time, we were in a position to do something about this and change the strategy. In the beginning, we didn’t pay much attention when 500 people passed through our country in one day, but when it rose to 2,000 or more, we determined we must be better organized. We included the army and the police, and people from our health system to provide health services. We created a system that is functioning well now where people who come to our borders are given food and water and medical care. One to two hours are spent on registrations, which provides data we electronically share with other European countries. After that, they are transferring to trains because many want to go to Germany, Sweden, or elsewhere.

For now we are managing. The number now passing through has reached 6,000 every day, sometimes more. We have 10,000 on some days. This year alone, more than 600,000 refugees passed thru the country and we provided humanitarian aid to all of them.

Are there moments when you can appreciate the successes or is it always looking ahead at what further needs to be done?

There are many moments. With the measures we have taken, the percentage of people who are going into higher education has risen – almost 95 percent of those who finish secondary school are starting university. About one-third still don’t finish secondary school, which is normal, but 65 percent are finishing. This is a serious advantage for our country to encourage investors to come here.

We have also created other programs for people who didn’t have a chance to study at university in the past because they didn’t have money or considered it important. We have created programs for people in middle age – 35 or older – where most of the lessons are presented over weekends. Many are now finishing university and taking their newly-gained knowledge and moving ahead in their careers. I have met many people who have thanked me for this opportunity. Many have tripled their salaries.

Did you know early on that public service and government was of interest to you?

I started working at a private bank in the capital. Two years later, I passed all exams necessary to become a broker of the stock exchange when the stock exchange was, for the first time, opened in Macedonia. I did the first transaction on Macedonia’s stock exchange in 1996. I didn’t have any idea at that time that I would work within government, but it came to this.

As part of your success, you’ve surrounded yourself with great talent. How important has it been to bring those into government with you?

One of the advantages of this political party is that I’m trying always to bring in the best people. When I formed the government in 2006, more than half of the ministers that my party promoted were not from our party. One third of the ministers of the government today are coming from those who have worked mainly from the U.S. at companies like Microsoft, HP, Siemens, and The World Bank. Working with people who share their good knowledge, experiences and deliver at high capacity is easier and gets good results. 

The state exam aims to enhance the quality of higher education and put an end to the phenomenon of purchased diplomas, said Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski late on Saturday.

"We are committed to a measure that will put an end to the obtaining of diplomas without the possession of elementary knowledge, since this harms those who truly learn and demonstrate knowledge in acquiring the diploma, but then face the former when competing for a job. It is not good for a society to produce generations with zero knowledge and the Government must not look away. Knowledge is the thing that generates progress, not the diploma", said PM Gruevski in an interview with Sitel TV station.

The exam will be taken in two parts, one after the second year of studies and the second following the senior year.

"The grades will not be altered, the student and professor will not suffer repercussions. The state wants to ensure that students that complete the faculties truly possess knowledge for a minimum pass grade. The labor market will measure their true grade. We are doing this because we have faced problems over the past 15-20 years, since pass grades have been given at certain universities without showing knowledge. This is a public secret and we cannot tolerate it", stressed Gruevski.

According to him, the first state exam would be held in mid-2017 for the students who enroll studies in September 2015. If students do not pass the exam in the first attempt, they can take it until they do.

Foreign investments open 11,000 jobs, additional 13,000 to follow

I am satisfied from the foreign investments, because they have opened 11,000 jobs thus far. Numerous companies have decided to invest their capital in Macedonia in recent months, with additional 13,000 jobs in the plans, said PM Gruevski.

"I am more than satisfied from the interest and decisions by a number of foreign investors. Seventeen companies decided to build plants in Macedonia in the first half of 2013, eight in the second semester of the year. Besides the 13,000 direct jobs, there will be additional indirect employments, depending on the field of operations", he added.

According to him, the ultimate goal is lowering of the unemployment rate.

"We have cut the unemployment rate from 38 to 28 percent, and we are planning to reach 22 percent by the end of this mandate", stressed Gruevski.

Gas to cut costs of households and business

We are working on the gas distribution process, which is to reduce costs for the industry and households, but also take into account the environmental aspect, said PM Gruevski.

"An e-auction over Skopje's gas distribution is to be held in December or January, including two bidding companies. The higher bidder will get the 20-year concession", said Gruevski.

The selected company will have to invest EUR 100 million for distribution of gas to households and the industry. The gas distribution in Eastern and Western Macedonia will follow.

"Regarding the primary gas distribution, meaning networking of cities through a pipeline, we are finalizing talks with the EBRD, but we also hold discussions with other potential investors and mull the option of a public call for public-private partnership", added Gruevski.

Pertaining to Macedonia's existing contract for gas distribution, he said not even half of it is used.

"These quantities amount to 800 million m3, which might not even be enough, taking into account the increasing number of plants. We are planning to link with the Greek gas pipeline coming from the Athens port. We are also weighing the possibility of networking with the interconnective gas pipeline in Bulgaria. It is good if Macedonia has more than two sources of supply", underlined PM Gruevski.

Macedonia is a small, land-locked country and attraction of investors is not an easy task. The only way is solid and consistent reforms for improvement of the business environment, says Vice Premier and Finance Minister Zoran Stavreski in an interview with London's "The Banker".

"First you have to significantly improve the business environment, the existing infrastructure, have a qualified workforce, not only in the sense of costs, but also quality. This is what we have done in recent years. We invested a lot in infrastructure, education, but also simplified procedures, reduced bureaucracy", says Stavreski.

According to him, the Government's challenge is to remain consistent, adapt and improve the business environment, thus coping with challenges and responding to the needs of the private sector.

"This has helped us in attracting global companies, such as 'Johnson Matthey', 'Johnson Controls' and others that have invested, but also opened follow-up capacities, which demonstrates their satisfaction from the business environment", stresses FinMin Stavreski.

Pertaining to the banking sector, he says it has been one of the pillars of growth, providing the required credit support to the private sector.

"We see the banking sector consolidating, meaning not many banks, but more healthy banks. In this context, we are open for new investors, which are prepared to buy existing banks or be present in Macedonia's banking sector", underlines Stavreski in the interview.