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Pendarovski for Kathimerini: Until we make progress toward EU, nationalists will be gaining ground

North Macedonia’s first obstacle to EU membership was the Greek veto; then it was France’s calling for a new methodology; and now it’s the Bulgarian blockade, so people are wondering “if maybe Bulgaria is not alone in this” and if maybe the more powerful countries don’t want the Western Balkans joining the EU, President Stevo Pendarovski told Greek newspaper Kathimerini in an interview published in its Sunday edition.

Athens, 10 October 2021 (MIA) — North Macedonia’s first obstacle to EU membership was the Greek veto; then it was France’s calling for a new methodology; and now it’s the Bulgarian blockade, so people are wondering “if maybe Bulgaria is not alone in this” and if maybe the more powerful countries don’t want the Western Balkans joining the EU, President Stevo Pendarovski told Greek newspaper Kathimerini in an interview published in its Sunday edition.

But as long as the country is not making progress toward the European Union, nationalist forces will keep gaining ground and people may start looking for an alternative to the EU, President Pendarovski says.

He also comments on the entire region’s progress toward the bloc, saying that Bosnia and Herzegovina has been forgotten and that Serbia and Montenegro are proving to be a litmus test for European integration – their negotiations dragging on for years as opposed to Croatia, which joined the EU only seven years after it started talks.

“Europeans rarely take a common stance on many things,” he tells the Greek daily. “Because of this discrepancy, over the past year the support for European integration in my country has decreased by some 20 percent, from 85 percent down to almost 65-67 percent.”

Regarding harmful propaganda in the region, Pendarovski says North Macedonia “has felt it especially since 2018 and the name referendum,” when claims surfaced overnight that “you should not become a member of NATO”, “you should not become a member of the EU.”

“The NATO alliance helped us with this issue,” Pendarovski says. “In September 2018, Pentagon experts came to Skopje, together with former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, to help us deal with this malicious influence. In general, non-regional players have led all this political propaganda through their regional representatives.”

Regarding the Greek role in North Macedonia’s bid for EU membership, he says that after being the main obstacle to the country’s European integration for 25 years, Greece has turned into “our most vocal supporter.”

Talking about the Prespa Agreement, Pendarovski says that Matthew Nimetz, who mediated the name dispute between the countries, wasn’t too optimistic the two sides would find a solution during his lifetime. But the international community, and Washington in particular, helped resolve the issue as well as the courage to make difficult decisions.

“In my opinion, what played a key role in reaching the agreement was the political courage of both leaders,” the President says. “Everyone knows that when you make such delicate and sensitive agreements, you don’t gain political points.”

“The prime ministers of both countries, but also the international community, were very active, especially Washington. There was a triangle of success: Athens, Skopje and Washington,” he points out.

In response to a question about the contribution of Brussels in the dispute, he says the EU is a heterogeneous organization, adding that even the Interim Accord had been reached under pressure from the United States.

Acknowledging that some resistance to the Prespa Agreement still persists in both countries, Pendarovski says the treaty was especially hard for North Macedonia because it had to change its name and Constitution, which wasn’t the case with Greece.

Asked if the opposition would abide by the treaty should it come to power, the President says he thinks it should and it would, because he cannot imagine them giving up on the country’s NATO and EU membership. mr/

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