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Statements of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, following the proceedings of the General Affairs Council (Luxembourg, 26 June 2018)
N. KOTZIAS: We had meetings of the Foreign and General Affairs Councils yesterday and today. We discussed a lot about defence and security issues yesterday, and today we talked about the Enlargement of the European Union, regarding which there were two different lines. On the one hand, a majority of 25, who want to accept and open the negotiations for North Macedonia/fYROM and Albania by the summer of 2019, and on the other hand, Denmark, France and Holland, who want to postpone the negotiations.
I explained very clearly how the geopolitical and geostrategic situation in the region necessitates assistance, rather than postponement, for both of these countries. I explained that the domestic situation in these two countries points to a need for stability and security, and certainly not new problems. In the end, we have reached a compromise that will provide for the opening of Chapters by the summer of 2019, which is very important for us, with the current European Commission well aware of the situation and the problems. Thank you.
REPORTER: (off microphone)
N. KOTZIAS: Who said they aren’t getting the green light? I believe there are two groups of countries. The first, which consists of a majority of 25 countries, supports the opening of negotiations by the summer of 2019. The other group, which consists of three countries – Denmark, France and Holland – argues that we should postpone the whole process. But postponement of this European process means putting in doubt the stability and security of the whole region of Southeast Europe, which should be very important to the whole of Europe.
I know there are some countries that have issues with populism, but we cannot fight or overcome populism without taking steps forward. There are some countries that prefer deepening of European integration to enlargement. They are right, but I told them the story, which I know very well, of what happened in the 1990s, when we held the negotiations with ten countries [2014 enlargement] – the eight countries of Eastern Europe, Malta and Cyprus – while at the same time holding negotiations on the Treaties of Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon, along with the Constitution of the European Union. At that time, it was not our fault that two countries – Holland and France – held referendums that rejected the European Constitution. So our experience shows that the two processes can proceed concurrently and that this is much better for Europe.
REPORTER: Can the issues of fYROM and Albania be considered separately?
N. KOTZIAS: You mean North Macedonia. After all, that’s what they call their country now. Considering them separately is not a good idea. Because the cases will have to be judged by the European Council, as happened in the 1990s, for example, when ten countries joined at the same time. There are many points of tension in our region; for example, between Albania and Serbia. If Albania is left behind, its distance from Serbia will grow. This wouldn’t be a positive development for our region.
REPORTER: What is your stance on the Bulgarian presidency, which has fought so hard for the countries of the Western Balkans?
N. KOTZIAS: The Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union is an excellent Presidency that has had our support and, in the final days of its term, will continue to have our support. Thanks to the Bulgarian Presidency, we have taken very important steps with regard to the EU’s policy on the Western Balkans.
JOURNALIST: Are you optimistic?
N. KOTZIAS: My philosophy is that of historical optimism.