President Pendarovski: So, I have not come here to ask for support or help because we are already getting that in large quantities; and on the political level in Brussels, I can freely say that the Czech Republic is one of the biggest and most vocal supporters of the integration of the Western Balkan region into the European mainstream.
Today you have met Czech leaders, the Czech President, Prime Minister and chairmen of both chambers of the Parliament. What have you learned today? How strong is the support and how strongly do you feel it?
President Pendarovski: I was really pleased to hear from all of them – from the Government, from the President, from both houses of the Parliament – I met eight, nine senators and all of them have been unequivocal in their support for achieving as soon as possible membership of North Macedonia to the European Union. And I was really pleasantly surprised to hear and to see all of them have been familiar, even with the nuances of this very difficult, very unique process that we have had when trying to approach as soon as possible the European Union. They know a lot about the details on our latest dispute with our Eastern neighbor Bulgaria, they know a lot about our previous dispute with Greece. So, they are well acquainted with the Balkan affairs, so to say. But the support is here. It has been repeated many times by your President, even now at the press conference. And we have no doubt about the Czech Republic. What we are trying, what I am trying on behalf of my country to do, is to reach with this visit – apart from the very strong economic component and discussions on that topic we have had with your political leaders – we are trying now through the Czech Republic to persuade maybe some other hesitant Member States of the European Union not to wait for some momentum to integrate the whole region into the European mainstream. For example, this time with the Russian invasion on Ukraine, as was the situation in 2015 and 2016 with the big migration crisis when millions of people were passing through the Balkan route. And then as well, because of that crisis, the Balkan region was back on the European agenda. We would not like to see that kind of an incident or war or conflicts or tensions to be the reason why the Western Balkans should be back on the European agenda.
Why am I telling all of this to all of my European interlocutors, not only the people here in Prague – if Europe is not present enough in the region, then we will have more of Russia here. We will have some other extra regional players, some of them with a malign influence, some of them propagating their autocratic models of ruling. We have been, for four and a half decades, part of former Yugoslavia in a non-democratic entity. So we would not like to repeat that experience – many decades back, we were part of the former state and part of the non-aligned movement. We are fed up of such types. Now it is fashionable to speak about BRICS. What are we looking for in that organization? They have only one common denominator – hate against the United States of America. That is certainly not enough as basis to assemble with other people and like-minded nations. We are speaking about economic prosperity, higher standards of living, a better life for our young generations. We have massive waves of people leaving the country, the whole region, not only North Macedonia. And we would like to offer good chances and opportunities to those people; to give them the chances to prosper in their fatherland and not to go around the world and to ask for better living and higher standards of living, but to pursue their happiness in their fatherland. So in BRICS, we cannot get that. Everybody knows that.
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, this week he said that European countries must be prepared for expansion by 2030. Do you see this date as possible or do you want to do it earlier?
President Pendarovski: It is possible because we are speaking according to all the estimations we have made in the meantime in my country – that 2030, if, as I said, we are not facing these types of unreasonable obstacles, that date is quite possible. Not only for North Macedonia, but for everybody else in the Western Balkans, but if we have the terrain cleared, as I said, of unreasonable demands by different sides. And, it is a good sign, a good omen I would say, the latest statement of the President of the European Council, because for the first time, one of the high European officials is repeating or emulating the vocabulary used for some time now by the Western Balkan leaders.
We have been speaking many times, on many occasions about 2030 as a kind of a timeframe to join the European Union. And now it is good to hear some of the leaders of the European Union speaking with the same language.
Yesterday you met people from Macedonia here in Prague. How important is it for them for your country to join the European Union?
President Pendarovski: It is important because, you know, we have the brightest, the youngest, the most capable young people leaving Macedonia unfortunately, looking for better opportunities in their lives. And when I was speaking about that very big demographic danger for the nation and also our ambition to join the European Union as soon as possible – both of them are tightly connected. As soon as we become a member of the European Union and raise the standards of living, many of them, including very successful entrepreneurs living today in the Czech Republic, would like at least to invest in their motherland and some of them might even go back to their native country.
But you know, as I said, with an average salary of 600 euros compared to the standard of living in the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, the UK, America, Germany or France, nothing can be compared with your standard of living. And I am not blaming those people. I am blaming all of us, the political leadership since our independence and up to the current political leadership of which I am part – we have not been able out of different reasons to create a better environment for those people to thrive and to prosper in their own country and not to pursue their happiness somewhere around the world.