Dimitrios Papadimoulis: I proposed to Mickoski to reach a better deal

Dimitrios Papadimoulis is Vice president of the European Parliament from the ranks of SYRIZA. As a member of the Joint Committee of Macedonia and the EU, he is currently staying in Macedonia. He is convinced that the Prespa agreement will be adopted in Greece and that this agreement is a typical example of the strong and courageous leadership of Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras.

Do you follow the situation regarding the referendum in Macedonia and, according to your estimation, which side will have a harder time adopting the agreement – Macedonia or Greece?

– The agreement provides two phases for you – one is the referendum, and then the adoption of the amendments to the Constitution. According to my information, there will be a large majority that will vote “for”. But we should first see the turnout. I think a strong majority and a high turnout will help the efforts to achieve the required two-thirds for constitutional amendments. Then, follows the ratification in the Greek parliament and I think that it will pass with a clear majority.

Difficulties exist in both countries because this agreement resolves a long-standing dispute of nearly three decades. But the Prespa agreement is a typical example of strong and courageous leadership from both parties and the two leaders, Tsipras and Zaev, who have proven to have the courage to find a good compromise. This is a ‘win-win’ approach. And, I’m sure that in a few months the majority that supports the agreement will be bigger in both countries.

You continue to refer to Macedonia as “your country”. When will you start calling us North Macedonia and how will common citizens behave towards the new name?

– I think that after the ratification of the agreement, the Greeks will use the term Northern Macedonia for your sum and it will be a good solution because with the Prespa agreement the Greek side realized its key request – erga omnes, which makes a good compromise for both parties. When it comes to compromising, no one can succeed 100% in the requirements. It is important that we managed to create a bridge between the two countries by resolving a longstanding dispute and preserving some of the most important requirements for each party, at the same time combining them. It is important for us all not to lose this window of opportunity because the ratification of the agreement will increase the stability of the region and it will be good for the economies of both countries. My feeling is that, although there is strong resistance in part of the population in both countries, as time passes, the number of Greeks supporting the agreement will grow.

You had a meeting with the leader of VMRO-DPMNE, Hristijan Mickoski. What is your impression?

– I think that the leadership of VMRO-DPMNE is in a difficult situation because there is no clear position regarding the referendum. Their position is that they do not have a clear position. I think that for the unity of VMRO, the ratification of the agreement will be an opportunity to support the necessary steps in the name of respecting the will of the people. My personal advice to Mr. Mickoski, who is a young and new leader, is to create a new party under his leadership, and not follow the steps of his predecessor if he wants to be a pro-European center-right party. It will be useful for him to be creative and supportive in terms of European orientation and integration of the country. The major opposition parties in both countries use completely confrontational arguments regarding the agreement. VMRO says Zaev gave everything to Tsipras, and New Democracy says Tsipras gave everything to Zaev. That’s not true. The truth is that there was a positive compromise between the two leaders. I would also like to remind not only Mickoski, but Mitsotakis as well, that their political family, EPP, strongly supports the Prespa agreement. When Prime Minister Zaev was in the EP, all political parties supported him, except for a small minority of nationalists and extreme right-wingers, and they all gave him a warm applause.

Do you have a timeframe for the implementation of the agreement in Greece? Will it be possible to do this by May, before the elections in Greece?

– Yes. I think that by March at the latest we will ratify the agreement with the prerequisite that the necessary steps on your part have already been prepared and done. However, I think it is our duty not to create further delays for ratification. The political will of the prime minister, the government and the speaker of the Greek parliament is to ratify the agreement no later than March.

Is there still Russian interference in Greece on this issue?

– I agree with Prime Minister Zaev that there is no evidence for this. The Greek government has made the necessary steps, it had to, but on the other hand, it hopes it is important for the two countries to have good relations respecting one another.

A history commission was formed recently. Who will be responsible for it from the Greek side and what will it discuss?

– Under the agreement, the two foreign ministries will take all the necessary steps to implement it. There is no doubt that after the ratification, we will have a positive ground for implementing the agreement in the spirit of goodwill on both sides.

Soon there will be elections for the European Parliament. What will become of Macedonia’s promises of EU membership if Euro-skeptics take over the EP?

– There is an increasing alarm about the danger of the rise of the anti-European, populist and extreme right. Not only for the EU integration of your country, but for the future of the EU, it is important to create the widest possible democratic and pro-European alliance in order to foster the European unification process. I think that we will be able to create a broad alliance that can win the majority in the EP by opposing the dangers of the extreme right. This is absolutely urgent and necessary because the EU must respond to the demands of its citizens for greater growth, social cohesion, more transparency, more democratic accountability, and the only way to do so is to form a vast majority with major democratic alliances.

The vast majority in the EP and in the European institutions supports the European integration of your country. After the ratification of the agreement, you should work hard on the implementation of the necessary reforms in the country. I had a meeting with Minister Radmila Sekerinska and I was glad that there are already preparations for the implementation of the second phase of the agreement because we should work on it in a joint and cooperative spirit. Anyway, I would like to reassure you that my party and a vast majority of Greek MEPs will support your European orientation. After the ratification of the Prespa agreement on the Greek side, you will have a friend and supporter of your European process.

When will we see Tsipras in Skopje?

– I cannot give you an exact date. But yesterday I had a meeting with your speaker, Talat Xhaferi, and I told him that after the ratification of the agreement by both parties, it would be good to exchange visits between the speakers of the parliaments. I would prefer that visit the Greek Prime Minister be published by his office.

Solun or Thessaloniki?

Do we, according to the agreement, have to call Solun Thessaloniki?

– To us it is Thessaloniki, you decide by yourselves how you are going to call it. I do not decide how someone pronounces it, but for all Greeks Thessaloniki is Thessaloniki. What is more important is what this agreement gives to Thessaloniki, to Northern Greece, to the Greek Macedonia, that it increases stability, gives many opportunities for trade, cultural exchange and growth of tourism. I think this city will be one of the fastest advocates of the implementation of the agreement. This is really a “win-win” deal.

We must not repeat the mistake we made 25 years ago

VMRO-DPMNE says it can reach a better deal than the present one

– I don’t think that’s possible, and that’s why I proposed to Mickoski in an unofficial conversation after the end of the meeting that if he thinks he can succeed in this, he should try this with the Greek sister party New Democracy. If VMRO and New Democracy can reach a better deal for the country, I would like to see it. Why not try this option? But that’s not the case. My feeling is that if your country loses the opportunity to ratify the agreement, this window of opportunity will be closed for another 25 years. Because we had an opportunity for such a positive agreement during the period of Kiro Gligorov and Konstantinos Mitsotakis, but we lost it because of the reactions in both countries. And now we must be very serious not to repeat the same mistake.

Slobodanka Jovanovska