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

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY TOM EL­LIS

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.

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