- Our South East Europe

INTERVIEW with Nikola Poposki, Minister of Foreign Affairs/Chair-in-Office of the South-East European Cooperation Process

“Our motto will be Solidarity in Action”, says Minister Poposki

Dear Minister Poposki, your country has just assumed the Chairmanship-in-Office of the South-East European Cooperation Process. From the experiences of your predecessors, how effectively do you think the countries of the region are using regional cooperation to advance their development and achievement of individual agendas?

“Sixteen years ago, a fraction of the countries from the region of Southeast Europe, including the Republic of Macedonia, arrived at a joint conclusion that, in order to pursue their common goals and interests, it is necessary for all of them to speak in unison. They agreed that the concept of regional integration provides a successful and effective platform for creating a stable, secure and prosperous Region. Hence, they created the Southeast European Cooperation Process, the priorities of which are peace, building confidence, interconnectivity in infrastructure and energy, as well as bringing prosperity to the entire region. When trying to answer the question of how effectively regional cooperation is being used, we need to recall the two pillars of our cooperation - all inclusiveness of regional ownership. The inclusion of all region countries in this Initiative, as well as the creation of a structure which will allow various individuals and entities from the business, science, education and culture sectors to engage in a wide-ranging networking, are the key principles to which we attach the greatest possible attention. In that context, the quite tangible results that we have thus-far had from engaging in specific projects in the fields of trade, energy and aviation (CEFTA 2006, the Energy Community and the European Common Aviation Area) bear testimony to the type of effectiveness that regional cooperation has succeeded in achieving over the years. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that there are various other potentials that we need to exploit together, while strengthening regional ties even further with a view to creating a prosperous region which will help ensure that we all become full-fledged members of the European and Euro-Atlantic structures as soon as possible.”

As you pointed out earlier, the main priority on the agenda of your county’s SEECP Chairmanship will be regional cooperation in relation to European perspective of all the region’s countries. What, in terms of specific activities, will this mean?

“The goal of the Macedonian Chairmanship-in-Office will be to promote regional interest by placing an emphasis on European perspectives. The SEECP Chairmanship-in-Office will provide the Republic of Macedonia with an excellent opportunity to demonstrate its utmost commitment to regional cooperation and fostering good-neighbourly relations. Our motto will be “Solidarity in Action”. In other words, our goal is to see all Region countries demonstrating a strong commitment to pursuing reforms and achieving prosperity, while not allowing open issues to stand as obstacles for developing regional cooperation. In this sense, I should like to say that regional cooperation is a crucial element in the European policies of each and every one of the SEECP participating countries which, in essence, mirror one another in this context, regardless of whether they have already become member states of the EU or are membership candidates or aspirants. What we will specifically try to achieve is to find a common platform and speak in unison within all European institutions. We are interested in developing infrastructure, transport, energy and all kinds of networks. We shall endeavour to improve the frequency and quality in the relations between all individuals and entities in the region regardless of whether they are working in the fields of business and tourism or are simply pursuing personal ties. We expect that, under our Chairmanship-in-Office, we will be able to create a synergy between all existing initiatives in the Region which we believe will help strengthen its credibility in Brussels.”

What do you see as the most urgent areas for advancing cooperation in South East Europe, the improvement of which would make the region’s position towards the EU more favourable?

“First and foremost, I feel that we need to strengthen the political dialogue between the countries that are having bilateral issues which impedes the EU integration of the entire region. I come from the Republic of Macedonia – a country which has been facing a specific situation concerning its EU integration for many years. In that context, we see our SEECP Chairmanship-in-Office as a challenge to demonstrate our conviction that fostering good-neighbourliness is the basic prerequisite for not only achieving a successful integration of the entire region into the EU, but also for ensuring the individual progress of all region entities. We will certainly try to encourage the other participating countries to strengthen political dialogue as a means for overcoming current obstacles, which we believe will also prove to be instrumental in upholding one of the key principles of all-inclusiveness. Moreover, I feel that it is of paramount importance for all of us to jointly identify which are the infrastructural, economic and energy projects that the EU could endorse.”

In your mind, what are the key advantages of successful regional cooperation that benefit both the individual countries and the region as a whole?

“Fostering a successful regional cooperation creates a climate of trust, friendship, communication and free circulation of people and ideas. It also facilitates and improves the economic cooperation between the business communities of the countries involved in the process. That, of course, creates a positive atmosphere and a sense of security and stability, but, at the same time, ensures the prosperity of all citizens in the region. Hence, I feel that we need to focus our energy on continuously and constructively fostering communication by initiating and implementing, at the same time, joint projects concerning various areas of our societies and economies.”

How do you see the role of the Regional Cooperation Council in advancing regional cooperation in South East Europe?

“I have offered my congratulations to the newly elected Secretary General. I am well aware of his abilities and ambitions and, in that context, I feel that under his guidance, the RCC can only strengthen its role in the region. The main challenge for the Council in the coming period will be to improve the communication with Brussels when trying to present and put into operation our priorities. That would be the best way for us to demonstrate that not only individual countries, but the region as a whole is successful in identifying projects that could be beneficial not only to itself, but to Europe in general, as well. On the other hand, it is also important for all participating countries to continue nominating highly professional representatives to the Council. The personal and professional qualities of the nominees are crucial to the successful work of the Council. In general terms, the work of the RCC, as well as its role of facilitating regional cooperation, is a challenge for the Republic of Macedonia, as SEECP Chairing country, as well. In that context, I would like to welcome the readiness of the Central European Initiative (CEI) to continue implementing the IPA project aimed at strengthening the capacity of the RCC and I feel that we need to draft, initiate and promote a project which would address the need of strengthening the capacities of various other networks and initiatives that have hitherto proven to be of great use and value to the region as a whole.”[1]

Nikola Poposki has been the Minister of Foreign Affairs since July 2011. Prior to that, among the other duties, he was Ambassador, Head of his country's Mission to the EU (2010-2011), Team leader of  Joint Research Centre of European Commission (2006-2009), and Secretary of Embassy of the French Republic in Skopje (2001-2004). Poposki is the EC trained internal auditor for implementation of integrated environmental management and health and safety standards (ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001). He holds two Master degrees: Master of Arts in European Economic Studies College of Europe, Bruges (2005) and Master in Languages and International Trade in the EU University of Rennes and University of Skopje (2004).

[1] The RCC Secretariat note: in the legal documents of the RCC the name applied is The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia