Skopje, 3 August 2018 (MIA) - The Chief of the NATO Liaison Office Skopje, Slovenian Navy Captain Gorazd Bartol, in an interview with MIA expressed hope that in 2019, NATO’s 70th anniversary year, the new, 30th flag, with the stylized sun on a red background could wave at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels.
In an interview he refers to the talks which officially started by end of July, after the country has received invitation to start NATO Accession Talks and not negotiations, gives assessment on country’s readiness to join the Alliance and explains the benefits of becoming a NATO member state.
He also underlines the importance of resolution of the name dispute with Greece as a major obstacle for our Euro-Atlantic integration. He believes that the people to voice their clear position at the upcoming referendum, highlighting that they should use this historic opportunity for the country.
NATO has demonstrated its serious commitment to Macedonia’s becoming its 30th member. After having been a candidate for 19 years, the country finally got an invitation during the Brussels Summit and July 25th saw the beginning of pre-accession negotiations. What should we expect from this negotiation process? What will it focus on? What is being negotiated, in particular and what will be it's intensity, how often we will have "NATO" inspections?
First of all let me use this opportunity to congratulate your fellow citizens for a crucial step this country has made towards the NATO membership. I also need to praise the Government that has been able to achieve so much in such a short timeframe. We all need to remember that just something more than a year ago this country was on a verge of a great internal instability. During the recent NATO Summit in Brussels the Heads of State and Government invited your country to start the Accession Talks. Once all your national procedures are completed, and all NATO Allies have completed the ratification process, your country will become the thirtieth member of NATO.
In NATO it has been agreed that Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Alejandro Alvargonzales will lead the NATO Team in the Accession Talks. During these talks, NATO experts and representatives of your country will discuss and confirm its interest, willingness and the ability to respect the political and military obligations and commitments of NATO membership, including ratification of all needed international treaties and protocols. In parallel with the Accession Talks, within the framework of the country’s continued participation in the Membership Action Plan, the NATO Team will also discuss with your Government specific issues and reforms upon which further progress is expected before and if necessary after accession in order to enhance the contribution to the Alliance.
According to estimations by the Macedonian government, this stage of our course towards NATO should be done by the end of the year. How long do you think we will be negotiating, bearing in mind that Macedonia has a record number of MAPs (17, with the 18th on the way)?
Being aware of the unique situation that the country has in a very short timeframe received a date to open EU accession negotiation in June 2019 and invitation to start NATO Accession Talks, there seems to be confusion in the public what the country has really achieved in its path towards NATO integration. There is a clear distinction between NATO’s Accession Talks which tackle some important issues but should be completed in a matter of months, and start of EU membership negotiations that can really last for very long time, in some cases even decades. Therefore it is important to use the right wording – your country has received invitation to start NATO Accession Talks and not negotiations.
Concerning your question how long the NATO’s Accession Talks would last I can confirm the estimations of your Government that also in NATO we plan to conclude them in a matter of months. The reason why you had so many cycles of Membership Action Plan was political – because mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has not been reached for an extended period of time. I am very glad that with the Prespa Agreement and its implementation this issue will be finally resolved.
The Working Committee for Integration of Macedonia into NATO has finally become active again, after being suspended in 2008 when Macedonia was not invited due to the Greek veto at the Bucharest Summit. You have been Chief of the NATO Liaison Office in Skopje since 2016. What is your opinion of Macedonia’s progress towards meeting NATO accession criteria?
The period that I was in Skopje was very interesting and busy. I have witnessed many events that could stop this country to its Euro-Atlantic path. Fortunately things went into right direction. The formation of a Government last year and political stabilization after the general elections in 2016 was a very positive step forward. The new government has declared NATO membership as a key priority and has identified the need to finally resolve the name issue dispute with Greece. It is also determined to move forward the process of defence reforms. We are very glad to cooperate and to observe excellent leadership of a deputy prime minister and minister of defence Radmila Sekerinska that has started the process of the Strategic Defence Review. During this very successful review the Government has identified the list of priorities that need to be implemented to improve your own defence system.
The Assistant Secretary General Alejandro Alvargonzales has been appointed as the head of NATO's negotiation team. Negotiations will be lead by senior NATO official. Is this a common practice for each candidate-country?
Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Alejandro Alvargonzales will lead the NATO Team in the Accession Talks. To nominate senior NATO official to lead the Accession Talks was a practice also in the last NATO enlargement with Montenegro. Of course he will be strongly supported by the NATO experts in the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, as well as from the ground by the NATO Liaison Office Skopje. Assistant Secretary General Alvargonzales is very much informed about the situation in your country. Let me also remind you that he already visited Skopje in March this year where he met with the highest representatives of your country.
Do you think Macedonia is ready to join the greatest political and military Alliance in the world, considering our country’s army, i.e., our military organization, finance, and budget?
With decision of the NATO Summit in Bucharest NATO has in a way already in 2008 decided that the country is technically ready to join NATO. Unfortunately, a decade has passed before the mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been finally reached. During this period the country and the defence system have not progressed as it could. After the establishment of the current Government in 2017 very motivated, skilled and politically strong minister of defence started to quickly reverse the trend and implement necessary steps in reforming the defence system. It is also very important that the country has obliged itself to increase defence spending Investing in defence is vital for NATO because we must maintain our security in a more unpredictable world.
Head of the Office of Euro-Atlantic and Global Partnership in the Political Affairs and Security Policy Division at NATO Headquarters James Mackay, announcing the start of negotiations, predicted 18 months passing before full membership, including the member countries parliamentary ratification. Do you see Macedonia’s flag waving, finally, among the other ones at the NATO Brussels headquarters in mid-2019?
When my colleague James Mackay gave his estimation in how much time you could realistically become a NATO member, he was looking at the Montenegro example. Montenegro indeed needed around 18 months from invitation to start the Accession Talks to become a member. They concluded their Accession Talks in about 6 months and all Allies needed additional 12 months to ratify the Accession Protocols to the North Atlantic Treaty. I would only hope that in 2019, NATO’s 70th anniversary year, the new, 30th flag, with the stylized sun on a red background could wave at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels.
Our entry nonetheless relies on the implementation of the Prespa Agreement. And, in general, Macedonia’s EU and Euro-Atlantic processes depend on the implementation of the name deal. Optimism that the Agreement will be implemented prevails in Macedonia and Greece, but what if the upcoming referendum fails?
NATO members, as well as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg have really warmly welcomed the Agreement as a great achievement for both Skopje and Athens, setting an example also for others across the region. It is clear that thee name dispute has casted a shadow over the region for too long.
Having in mind the rather huge support for NATO in this country that is way over 70% I would encourage the people to voice their clear position in great numbers. Not only as the NATO representative, but also as a Slovenian – that is still somehow emotionally attached to your country – I firmly believe that you will use this historic opportunity, not only for the benefit of current generations, but also for the upcoming. It is unfortunately very clear that without the finalization of the agreement, including change of constitution, your country can not join NATO in the foreseeable future.
In 1993, the Macedonian Parliament adopted a resolution for membership, in 1995 our country joined the Partnership for Peace program, opened a NATO office in 1997, became a candidate in 1999 – it has been a long road. Is this long road cost-effective for Macedonia? What are the benefits of our persevering on the Euro-Atlantic course?
As we all know and as has been collectively agreed also at the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008, you had specific issues that needed to be solved. Although tough, your path to NATO has helped you in progressing in reforms, adapting changes in the society, in values and also in defence sector, primarily because of yourselves; because you need reforms for your own benefit.
NATO is an Alliance of values and a force-multiplier. The core values of NATO are embedded in the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, and they are freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. NATO is a permanent coalition of free democracies – with all the political, military and diplomatic advantages this brings. Countries that have joined the Alliance have been able to strengthen their democracy, boost their security and make the lives of their citizens safer. NATO membership strengthens a country’s sovereignty. Membership in NATO should also greatly reflect in economy, with improving ratings of your country, becoming more attractive for foreign investments, etc. Your country will also get a seat at the NATO table, and you will be able to actively participate in shaping NATO’s policies.
Do you expect any involvement of outside factors—Russian ones, for example—in an attempt to prevent our accession to NATO?
Becoming a NATO member is a question for your country, for your citizens and for the 29 existing Allies, and no one else has the right to interfere.