Joint statements of Greek FM, Nikos Kotzias, and the FM of FYROM, Nikola Poposki

N. KOTZIAS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It was a pleasure to welcome the Minister – who shares my name – of our neighbouring country. We had a friendly discussion within the framework of trust and a willingness to change things wherever we can.

We want to cooperate on the refugee issue and contribute to the stability of the wider region. Islamic extremism and the Syrian war have created the major refugee problem we have; a problem that is not an inter-state issue. It is a global issue. It is even beyond Europe. And the Minister met this morning with the Alternate Civil Protection Minister, Nikos Toskas, and they discussed the issues of the developing police cooperation.

We talked based on our willingness to take initiatives to enrich our cooperation in many, many sectors of the economy, the tourism sector. Don’t forget that Greece is the number-one investor in our neighbouring country. We talked about its European perspective and how we can, in these sectors, pass on the experience and know-how we have. We talked about a number of reforms needed throughout the region, development of the rule of law, combatting organized crime, and many other things. We had a particularly interesting conversation on the energy issue and the neighbouring country’s intention to connect to Greece’s energy network system.

We both want there to be good cooperation between the two states, and we want voices of extremist nationalism and irredentism to be isolated. We don’t want to show inertia. We want to capitalize on the talks taking place at the UN on the central problem of the name.

And I think both of us are happy with the initiative we took, the confidence-building measures. We already have five measures on which we are progressing creatively, and the next six. We are satisfied with the meetings that took place for the political dialogue between our very high-level diplomats, and we want to face the future and all of the issues the two countries are looking at with trust, within the new international environment as well as in the relations between us.

I thank Minister Nikola Poposki once again for accepting my invitation, when I was in Skopje, to visit our country, and we both – he and I – renewed an invitation to visit for a longer time, because today our time and the potential to talk about all of the issues was relatively limited, and shortly we have to go to the President of the Republic, who will receive Nikola Poposki. Nikola, once again, welcome, and I hope we see you again.

I learned that he came as a tourist, in 1986, and I invited him to return to our country for a vacation and as a Minister of the government that results from the April elections. I wish him good luck in this area as well.

N. POPOSKI: I would like to express my thanks and my appreciation to my colleague, Nikos Kotzias, for his hospitality. Hospitality that he showed me and my delegation here in Athens.

I too believe that it is an important step on the part of the Greek agencies that they are talking to us, and I mean the Ministry of Civil Protection, the meeting at Parliament and at the Presidential Mansion.

I think that this is the right path of our bilateral relationship. We talked about a number of issues. We concluded on which sectors are the ones where our positions differ, and we also identified the sectors that are important for our two countries.

There is a dispute regarding the name. Regarding this name dispute, there is a discussion. That is, just as with the geographical position our countries have, separated by mountains, there are corresponding obstacles.

I would like to underscore that our country has a strategy to have good relations with Greece, and this is the direction in which we must guide our relations.

We talked about the confidence-building measures, which may be symbolic but are nevertheless important and are being developed in a number of sectors, including economic cooperation, culture and education cooperation.

We also talked about a more direct cooperation in the process of European integration. With Greece we can share experiences that may prove very beneficial for us and that we can capitalize on during the process of accession to the European Union.

So there also needs to be cooperation between other Ministries of our countries. In a situation like the one we are living through today, and I am referring here to the refugee crisis, this cooperation and positive stance should also be reflected in the management of the refugee issue.

So we need to do whatever we can to provide decent conditions for the people passing through our countries, and I believe that the European Union can also make its own contribution here.

There are signs of improvement of cooperation on the ground, and these signs of improved cooperation should continue in the future as well.

In closing, I would like to underscore that we have renewed the invitation for a visit in the coming year. However, we want to have cooperation between our countries in more sectors.

In view of the fact that both countries are making great efforts to improve the climate in our relations, despite the fact that we have our differences on both sides of the border, there  is a common interest in better cooperation.

Thank you.

JOURNALIST (Alfa TV Skopje): Mr. Minister, Mr. Kotzias, at today’s meeting, did the Greek side propose any idea, was there, from the Greek side, any proposal for the resolution of the name issue? And would this mean unblocking the process for the neighbouring country’s joining NATO and the European Union? That is, was there a step ahead in resolving the name issue?

N. KOTZIAS: We are negotiating this issue at the UN, with the help of Mr. Nimetz. And we are seeking an honest compromise that combats irredentism and extremist nationalism helps the future perspective of both sides. As you know, the negotiations are taking place in the framework of the UN, and their content is not for disclosure. Thank you very much.

N. POPOSKI: Two questions were asked. So I would like to go back to the first question regarding the proposals.

At any meeting between the representatives of the two countries, the bilateral dispute reappears, comes to center stage again. As I also said earlier, the positions of the two governments are well known and we should conclude that the positions are opposed, and for this reason we need to climb mountains, get past the mountains to reach a solution.

On the other hand, we know that it is in our interests to work in order to improve the climate between the two countries, to have a constructive dialogue so that we can focus on things that will bring us closer together, rather than focusing on the only point on which we differ.

I hope that the dialogue we are developing and the confidence-building measures are steps in the right direction.

Thank you.

JOURNALIST (Skai TV): I want to ask you, Mr. Poposki. Welcome to Greece, first of all. You just mentioned that we need to overcome major obstacles to resolve the dispute that exists with regard to the name issue.

Should common ground be found by the two governments, do you still intend to carry out a referendum?

And I also want to ask you about the refugee issue. Is your government determined to complete the construction of the fence that is now underway, or might this endeavor be abandoned, given the good cooperation between the authorities of the two countries?

And finally, on the energy issue, is there a case of our looking at cooperation between the two countries in sectors other than natural gas?

Thank you very much.

N. POPOSKI: Regarding the name issue, I believe that the creation of false expectations is in no one’s interest. So we need to be realistic when we are presenting the situation. And in this case the two country’s views differ significantly. This is a fact. Regarding your second question, yes, we have the political duty not to agree to just any solution, and this solution will not be able to threaten the Constitution or our national characteristics if this solution is supported in a referendum.

Regarding the third question you posed, on the refugees, this is a matter on which there is common interest for both countries. The great difficulty is that the same number of refugees reaching the Greek islands also passes into our territory. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of refugees, which in Greece, which has a population of 10 million, is a problem, but for us, with our population of 2 million, they are an even bigger problem. Thus, we all need to ensure the safe and humanitarian handling and transit of these people. For this reason, we have raised obstacles on our borders to stop illegal crossing and so that all refugees are directed to the registration point. When there is a full system for correct registration, we won’t need to put up obstacles, and, of course, we too don’t want there to be fences on the borders between two European countries. These types of borders, fences, cannot be a long-term solution.

Regarding your last question, concerning energy, we reaffirmed our desire for interconnection with Greece’s energy network. What I was told by our collocutors in Athens is that there is will for further promotion of the plans in the energy sector between the two countries, and, of course, for our part we support these programmes.