In this exclusive interview for IBNA, the French ambassador to Skopje, Christian Thimonier comments the current events in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. He stops on the commitment and ambitions of the government to deliver the reforms and bring the country closer to the EU and NATO.
Interviewed for IBNA by Naser Pajaziti
IBNA: The new government is being ambitious in terms of the reforms it aims at delivering. We have the 3-6-9 plan and a number of declarations about its commitment. How do you see this development?
Thimonier: The agenda of reforms is an excellent guideline. The projection and presentation phase was a truly big success. It enabled Macedonia to return in the European and international stage as a positive player. The country ended a period of stagnation, in which it lost a good part of the initial progress made in its efforts for EU and NATO integration. This change corresponds with a new start for the Macedonian society. The momentum was felt. It now needs to become more concrete. We are looking at all the signals to confirm if the agenda is a real program of change. We will be on your side in delivering this program: this is duty for us in order to show our European solidarity.
IBNA: The key problem relates to the name dispute. There are optimistic signals and a new approach. Do you think that there will be a rapid solution or are we going to see the same thing as before?
Thimonier: The period that we left behind was a period of crisis for both countries in question. Now, the two countries are in good terms. This stability is being used to put an end to the paradox existing between the two neighboring countries, which share many common things. Currently, we’re seeing a new approach, thanks to the good will shown by the two foreign ministers. This will help with the talks which will be held in December with the UN’s brokerage. This is why I think that this path must be supported the same way all bilateral or regional reconciliation incentives are supported. Greek officials will also be more comfortable in backing a reasonable agreement with a country which enjoys stability and which is looking to have good relations with all other neighboring countries and which is engaged in collaborating with institutions in Brussels.
IBNA: There’s an incentive to hold a meeting in Paris with the aim of intensifying political dialogue between the big parties. VMRO-DPMNE is skeptic about this incentive. What is your involvement as an embassy in relation to this meeting which has been planned in your capital?
Thimonier: A normal political and parliamentary life, the delivery of democratic criteria and a state which is not under the influence of political parties, are the main conditions that Macedonia needs to meet for its European integration. This rule goes for all countries of the region, therefore, Macedonian political forces must fully incorporate this rule in their activity, if they want to serve the interests of their people. It’s clear that a lot needs to be done in order to deliver these things. I don’t know if these political parties should go to Paris to hold such dialogue, because it’s clear that some of the obstacles which are encountered here in order to achieve a functional democracy relate to individual issues and nothing more. We’re closely following the efforts being made by the speaker of parliament and other courageous personalities to find a practical way of doing this. We believe that there must be a credible dialogue with the opposition, which, is also a representative of the people in Parliament.
IBNA: Reforms in the judicial system are key. Do you think this process is moving on in the right path following the appointment of the new Attorney General and the first moves that have been made, including the bills which need to be passed in Parliament?
Thimonier: It’s necessary for many legal experts, who had the courage to seek changes in the behavior of the authorities in relation to the procedures of the appointment, to continue to show the same stance. Changes in the judicial system must be based on the integrity and transparency with the citizens and not the advices or warnings coming from Brussels. Therefore, their voices should be heard, because they will be a key criteria in your European path.
IBNA: We also have the reform in the media, where the proposed bill is undergoing debates. How do you see the proposed legal solutions and do you think that something more can be done by heeding the demands of the associations of journalists?
Thimonier: There’s a new climate in the media following a long period of tension, aggression and threats against journalists, which has had left the impression that a deep and structural crisis is ruling in Macedonia. The country needs to go back to a more normal and pluralist system, free of political influences or financial pressure. This is a crucial issue for the entire region, therefore I am happy about the fact that this is fully assessed by my fellow countryman, Arlem Dezir, who is OSCE’s High Commissioner for the Freedom of Media. During his last visit here, he insisted on the issue of the creation of a public broadcaster which is politically neutral and independent. This will truly be an important issue through which we can assess the reality of the changes announced by the new authorities. I’d like to take this occasion to join the sincere wishes extended by Mr. Dezir about “Independent Newspaper”, [a newspaper published by Independent Balkan News Agency Group],which is true to its name. A high quality media remains a key criterion for democracy.
IBNA: Do you agree with Hahn’s declaration that the bill on language is not a priority and that the sides should focus on the reform package? Or must this bill receive the green light as soon as possible?
Thimonier: The requests made by the EU are many. It is very important for agendas to be respected and this is not easy for Parliament. Wouldn’t it be better if there were a debate on languages when all the other points of the agenda are addressed, given that this agenda is a product of consensus and conditions the country’s integration in Europe? This question may also be addressed from this point of view.
IBNA: PM Zaev is optimistic about the fact that until February next year, the country will be able to deliver all the criteria needed for the country’s EU path. Are you as optimistic as he is?
Thimonier: The Prime Minister’s optimism is a valuable asset. From the meetings held with him we are left with the impression that change is driven by a sincere will. A part of the time wasted in the recent years has been made up within a few months. Therefore, we must continue with patience and resolve. And as the French President Macron has declared, Europe’s construction will only be complete when Western Balkans are part of it. This is a good guideline for all the optimists and we are part of them. From now on, Macedonia must be good news when it comes to European integration. /balkaneu.com/