Greece must assume leading role in the Balkans
As he visits Athens, Slovenian President Borut Pahor speaks to Kathimerini about Prespes deal, challenge of migration, and future of EU
The Prespes accord is of historical importance not only for Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) but also for the broader region of the Western Balkans because it creates fresh momentum for the country’s incorporation into the European Union and NATO, Slovenia’s President Borut Pahor tells Kathimerini in an interview while urging Greece to play a leading role in this part of Europe.
Pahor, who is in Athens on an official visit today and tomorrow, says EU nations must forge a common migration policy in order to effectively deal with the ongoing crisis and prevent it from evolving into a factor of division.
He also refers to Ioannis Kapodistrias, whose family originated from Capodistria on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Venice. The city is now known as Koper and features a lifesize statue of the Greek statesman.
Finally, Pahor underlines Slovenia’s contribution to Greece’s rescue program and proposes some form of cooperation between the port of Piraeus, a maritime gateway to the Western Balkans, and Koper, which aspires to serve as an entry point to Central Europe. How do you assess the Prespes agreement? Do you feel it will be implemented, and, if so, what will it’s impact be on relations between Greece and FYROM, and the wider region?
The Prespes agreement on the resolution of FYROM’s name is a significant achievement and an important step in the right direction, and I hope that it will be realized. Furthermore, it is important for the entire Western Balkans, as it opens the path of the country, the new name of which will be North Macedonia, to EU and NATO membership. This also creates a new dynamic in the process of EU enlargement to this area of the Western Balkans and opens the door to this country, which, I am certain, is able to meet all EU and NATO membership requirements. And this contributes to stability in this part of Europe. Of course, I hope that the agreement will be realized. Both parties have a great responsibility to achieve this, and I hope that the efforts of the government in Skopje will evoke a suitable response from Greece. This agreement also opens the door to a better, fruitful, partnership, and friendly relations between the two countries, which will be to the benefit of both. It is Greece that must play an important role in ensuring prosperity and stability in this part of Europe, and especially in its northern neighbor. Allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate the prime ministers of both countries, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, for this agreement of historic importance. As a neighboring country, how do you feel about claims that there has been interference by foreign actors?
I do not know how much foreign intervention or assistance was involved in achieving the agreement. However, I do know that such an agreement was the wish of all those who care about stability and, as a result, prosperity in this part of Europe. Brussels, Berlin, Paris and, of course, Ljubljana wished that the two countries would reach an agreement, and we hope that it will be realized. For this reason, I am not bothered by any advice or support that was Slovenian President Borut Pahor gestures during an interview in a file photo from last year. ‘It can be said that relations between the Republic of Slovenia and Greece are excellent,’ Pahor tells Kathimerini. ‘I do not see any problems, and there are certainly still some opportunities that have not yet been taken advantage of.’ provided so that this agreement may be reached. What are Slovenia’s regional aims, given its leading role in initiatives such as the Brdo-Brijuni process?
Our goals are clear and simple: stability in this part of Europe and the inclusion of this part of Europe into European integration and the transatlantic community, which consequently also creates prosperity. We are trying to achieve and contribute to this, nothing more and nothing less. It is, of course, in Slovenia’s interest and in the interests of Europe as a whole that this part of Europe, which suffered much in the wars that ensued after the breakup of Yugoslavia and lagged behind in many respects, finds its place in European integration. The changes that followed after 1991 created opportunities for development and a better life in this part of Europe as well. After all, it is a prerequisite for these opportunities to be fully taken advantage of, that this part of Europe be integrated into the EU. Slovenia has been making constant efforts concerning this, and the Brdo-Brijuni process is also going in this direction. There are prospects for increased cooperation bilaterally, but also in a multilateral context, as both Slovenia and Greece are coastal and maritime countries and EU and NATO members.
It can be said that relations between the Republic of Slovenia and Greece are excellent. I do not see any problems, and there are certainly still some opportunities that have not yet been taken advantage of. May I mention just maritime transport and tourism. Our port of Koper would like to be a gateway to Central Europe, while your port of Piraeus is a gateway to the Western Balkans. There are certainly ample opportunities for cooperation between these two ports. There have not been any serious problems between Slovenia and Greece in the past, but actually a lot of cooperation. Slovenia as a member of the eurozone has shown concrete solidarity with Greece in all three financial programs during the Greek crisis. It has also actively contributed to burden sharing in the migrant crisis by participating in the relocation scheme, taking migrants from Greece to Slovenia.
Slovenia admires the achievements of ancient Greece. We are also proud of Ioannis Kapodistrias, who, in a way, symbolizes the cooperation between Slovenians and Greeks. May I add that Greeks and Slovenians were also allies in the last world war, and were attacked by Nazi Germany virtually on the same day in April 1941. Throughout the war, there was a strong resistance movement against German and Italian occupation, both in Greece and in Slovenia.