Mr. Figel’, what is the purpose of your visit to Macedonia?
I am here as a former chief negotiator of Slovakia and its first European Commissioner. Also, Special EU Envoy for Promotion of Freedom of Religion. Iwas invited here to the USAID-supported National Convention on the EU. I was a colleague of your Secretary of State at that time, Boris Trajkovski, and I was here during the Stenkovec crisis in 1999, so I’m returning to a country that is now different, but it still faces challenges and is in the same position in relation to EU integration. You must finally move forward.
You took part in the working meeting for the judiciary. What are your recommendations, given the situation in Macedonia?
In the area of judiciary and fundamental rights there is no special legislation, but this is one of the most sensitive chapters as it concerns the fight against corruption. Corruption is cancer in society and in the economy. And if you do not oppose it, the end of the cancer will come very soon and the problem will only grow. The judiciary is one of the three main pillars of democracy. Without a functional, independent and efficient judiciary, democracy will collapse. It is therefore important to invest in the judiciary, the confidence of the public in it and in the dynamics of delivering justice. Delayed justice is denied justice. So all of this is reflected here and I am happy that the National Convention is ready to help the country, move the processes and start the reforms that are needed. You can make many preparations and legal changes and reforms, but the most important are the people who lead the system and people in general, because integration is not for the politicians and for Brussels, but for the sake of the country and people. Europe is here and Europe needs to be integrated here.
We, however, have lost the most important case in the fight against corruption. Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski escaped from his prison sentence. How will it affect Brussels’s assessment whether we should start negotiations or not?
This country was very advanced in 2005 and now seems to be lagging behind, as Serbia-Montenegro has already begun negotiations. So you need to speed up, and the situation around Gruevski can actually help if you act and if you do something serious. We had a similar problem with a government that was incompatible with the Union, which committed serious crime and which even violated the constitution and took us outside the process, and our neighbors left us far behind. But for the people it was a strong wake-up call to stop Vladimír Mečiar’s government and restore the trend, to start real change and integration. We were watched with a lot of interest and empathy. I think it could be repeated for you, not only with interest in the case and the situation, but also with real empathy, sympathy and solidarity for the people and your country around the European perspective. But you must wake up, you need to vote responsibly, you need to find solutions to all these issues.
Can Orban afford to grant asylum to Gruevski?
Political asylum is a sensitive issue around the world, and especially in a democratic Europe, because giving asylum to anyone from a democratic country that is a member of the Council of Europe with ambitions to prove it will be very unusual. But, of course, the decision will be made by representatives of a democratic country. The judiciary, or better justice, is crucial to the credibility of your democracy. The authorities cannot be immune from investigations and prosecutions. Power means more responsibility and therefore politicians must act appropriately, and your judicial system should help for it to be even more credible. This will be some kind of litmus test.
We are preparing a population census, something that we failed to do for 16 years due to ethnic and political issues. Now it is proposed that it does not contain a graph for ethnicity and religion. Is this a good idea in a country where even voting in parliament is in accordance with the Badinter principle?
In Slovakia we have a graph of religion, national and ethnic origin. It is useful in some way to see the trends, to see the mosaic, because, you know, the truth is liberating. If you hide the truth, if you live in ignorance, or in vague situations, it does not help. We can pretend, but we must know the truth. It is also based on justice, even more so that people have more identities. Part of my identity is my ethnic origin, my religion, my family, my local, regional and national component and I want to feel good with all these dimensions. If you suffocate or hide them, in fact, you tell people that it is better not to show or that this is a problem in society. I would not advise you to make an artificial problem by hiding reality, by hiding identity. Identity is a very sensitive matter and can lead to many controversies and conflicts in societies. Those who do not understand the importance of identity create space for populists and extremists to exploit or abuse it against others.
How do you comment on the possibility of confiscating the voting rights of Hungary and Poland in the EU? And how do you explain the fact that in both countries there is such a strong Euroscepticism after hundreds of billions of euros of aid from the European Union?
European integration is not for money but for the people, but also for the values and rules they accept to live together in peace and to cooperate. The rule of law is one of the key principles. In order for the EU to succeed in our common living, we must stick to those principles of the rule of law. Poland got the message and they are now in a position to respond, but for ordinary people it can serve as proof that the EU is serious about its values and principles. Because if you turn everything into business and do not worry about the principles, you will spoil or destroy what has been achieved. So, basically this lesson is perhaps unpleasant, but very important and revitalizing about the trust and credibility of the Union. For several years back the question was raised whether the EU is truly a community of values or is a business and euro community. I think that it must be a community of values, but it also works on economic prosperity, because we are the main economic club. I am from Slovakia, which is part of the Eurozone, and my government has fallen because of the financial crisis in Greece and other countries. It was a problem in 2011, but I realized that we are responsible for resolving the European monetary union, helping countries such as Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy, and this is a huge change in a generation. We need to be aware that the EU is an unprecedented union and that the main reason that was created is the peace of the continent, and peace is the fruit of justice. When you see justice and peace together, know that stability and prosperity come afterwards. And that should not only be a vision, but a reality in the Western Balkans and Macedonia.