The television channel France 24 had two 17-minute interviews with the Minister of Defence, Radmila Shekerinska, in French and English languages, in which the minister answered questions on the possibility for Euro-Atlantic integration of Macedonia, the name issue with Greece, the fight against corruption and the reforms the judiciary, the transformation from a captive to a free state and the political crisis that preceded.
On question of the French journalists Carolyn de Camare from TV France 24 and Dominique Bayard of Radio France International, of whether Macedonia could count on the support of France’s president Macron for EU and NATO membership, Shekerinska answered the following:
“Our Prime Minister had a meeting in Sofia with President Macron and we are happy that he is backing Macedonia’s membership to NATO, but it is correct that France has a slightly different position when it comes to the enlargement of the EU. We need to be aware that in the case of Macedonia we are not talking about membership to the European Union, but the start of the negotiations. This is different, it is a difficult and long process which depends first and foremost on us, on our power to change and conduct reforms, but it also depends on the European Union. I will use Macron’s words: We should not wait when opportunity arises. There is an opportunity for the Balkans right now, and this is not something that happens often. Europe is saying now that there is success on the Balkans. This is a rare opportunity for Macedonia which is full of ethnic and religious diversities, but is still a functional democracy”.
On the direct questions on whether Shekerinsky expects the start of the negotiations with the EU at the Summit in June, the Minister was very optimistic about “trying to work on the Balkans, to be optimistic and to work”. Shekerinska said that Macedonia had invested a lot in the relations with its neighbours, and the agreement with Bugaria without any international mediation to show the maturity of the two countries. “I think that the same will happen with Greece”, said the Minister.
The French journalists touched upon Minister Shekerinska’s visit of the USA and agreed that Macedonia’s path towards NATO has opened and that the Macedonian government has the support of the USA. When asked about the efforts invested in getting the support of the USA for accession to the Alliance, Minister Shekerinska said:
“Macedonia has been working to attain NATO membership for many years. And we are ready. We have given many indications that the NATO obligations would be respected. We are now talking with the Greeks to resolve the outstanding issue, we have also worked very hard on the reforms in the defence. At the end of June, we would finalize the new defence strategy which was supported by NATO and some other member countries, and we have increased our contribution to operations abroad. It is clear that Macedonia is a loyal partner which can give a lot. Macedonia is a small country that can contribute a lot to the stability of the Balkans”, said Shekerinska.
Being asked: “There is still one issue that prevents Macedonia from becoming a member, and it was illustrated with the indictment of former Prime Minister Gruevski for corruption after having ruled the country for 11 years. What can you actually change with respect to this issue (corruption)? “, Shekerinska gave the following answer:
“During the crisis we established a new institution that deals specifically with the issues of high level corruption and abuse of power. The people in Macedonia thought for a long time that the highest politicians were untouchable and it was a problem of the legal state. I believe that the investigations and the ongoing process have demonstrated that nobody is above the law and it is a message for us as the new government. We have initiated reforms for increasing the transparency of the institutions and the government. I am speaking about an open government, journalists and the media having a free access to information and that is one kind of pressure on the government and prevention against corruption“, Shekerinska answered in the interview for France 24 and Radio France International.
In the second interview, Shekerinska gave journalist Catherine Nicholson from the English “Talking Europe” the following answer with respect to the possibilities for starting negotiations with the EU after the Summit in June:
“We have always considered that Macedonia has 3 different strategic problems – interethnic divides, the problem, with Greece and the problem with Bulgaria that lasted for almost a decade. This is the first government that managed to tackle three of them at once in a period of less than 12 months and if you don’t appreciate and support that change people will think, even if we do change, there is no response. I think that this echo will be very important for the Balkans… the EU now has an opportunity to pay respect to its key values and to say to the wave of nationalism and populism throughout the European continent, that when change happens in a small corner of the European continent, like in the Balkans, that change can be transferred elsewhere”, Shekerinska stated.
With respect to the name issue, the Minister said that we are working hard on reaching a solution.
“We are working hard, and I hope that there will be a decision and that requires a lot of courage and commitment, but also commitment on the part of the EU. We are making a huge sacrifice in Macedonia, we are risking a lot, but the citizens expect that this will realistically open the doors. We are not talking about EU membership tomorrow, we are talking about starting the negotiations, which is a long and difficult process”.
The Minister stated that the report of the European Commission clearly states the success of the reforms in Macedonia.
“We need the process of negotiations to channel the reforms in a process of targets, control and delivery” Minister Shekerinska said.