Joint press point
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia¹, Zoran Zaev
Prime Minister Zaev, my dear friend Zoran,
Welcome to the NATO Headquarters, welcome to NATO.
It is really a great honour and pleasure to meet you here today.
We have just had an excellent meeting.
We discussed the recent breakthrough in the name issue.
And I warmly welcome the agreement. It is a great achievement, for Skopje and for Athens. And a demonstration of the value of patient diplomacy.
And I would like to also commend you for your personal leadership, for your courage, making it possible to reach this agreement.
That’s important for all of us and I really congratulate you on that.
The name dispute has cast a shadow over the region for too long. It has held back prosperity and security. But now there is the chance for a brighter future.
The agreement sets an example for others across the region on how to consolidate peace and stability. So once again, congratulation to you and to Prime Minister Tsipras for the leadership and courage and commitment you both have shown in reaching this agreement.
At our Summit in two weeks, I expect that Allied Heads of State and Government will invite you to start accession talks.
And once all national procedures have been completed to finalise the agreement, you will join NATO.
Without the finalisation of the agreement, your country can not join NATO in the foreseeable future. So this is an historic opportunity which cannot be missed.
NATO’s door is open, and you are now on the doorstep. You have already shown your commitment to international peace and security, working with NATO. For example with your contributions to our presence in Afghanistan. And you are contributing to continuing stability in the Western Balkans.
NATO shares that commitment to security and stability in the region. It is important not just for the Western Balkans, but for the whole of Europe.
So Prime Minister, we want to see you and your country at the heart of a stable, democratic and prosperous region. And we will support you.
I look forward to continue to work together with you, and also to welcome you at the NATO Summit in July.
So once again, welcome to NATO.
Opening remarks by Prime Minister Zaev
MODERATOR: Okay. 360 Degrees, please.
QUESTION: Secretary General, you praised the deal over the name issue between Macedonia and Greece. During the severe political crisis in Macedonia last year you had contacts with President Ivanov over his reluctance to give the mandate to the parliamentary majority to form the new government. Are you now talking to President Ivanov or have contacts with him after his refusal to sign the name deal between Macedonia and Greece?
JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: I met him when I visited Skopje some months ago but these are internal processes in the country, so it is not for me to have any opinions as to exactly how these internal processes are organised. What I say is that we will invite the former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia¹ to start accession talks at our Summit in July. I am very confident that all the Heads of State and Government will decide that in two weeks from now. Then we will start accession talks and then the country will be able to join NATO as soon as the internal processes have been finished. Exactly how you do that, I leave it to the different institutions in Skopje, in the country to decide but we are ready to make you a full member of the Alliance as soon as these internal processes are finalised.
MODERATOR: Please Tanya from the Macedonian Press Agency.
QUESTION (Tanya - Macedonian Press Agency): [Interpreted}: [inaudible] … to the process exactly. So what is going to happen at this Summit first? What is that invitation? What are the accession talks? What do they consist in and how long do they last? On the Summit, are you going to wave the flag? Is it going to be installed? Is the Macedonian flag going to be installed on that day? And, once the procedures are over and the referendum is passed, when can Macedonia expect to become a full member. And to the Prime Minister, on internal reforms, this is a criticism that has been repeated many times since Tuesday. Have you heard these criticisms and what is your reply to them? Second question I would like to ask is: do you know whether President Tusk or the European Union are asking Macedonia to open refugee camps in Macedonia?
JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: What we will do, and I am confident that the Heads of State and Government will do that when they meet in July, is to invite the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to start accession talks. Then we will have accession talks for normally some months and given that the internal processes are finalised in the country, then you can join NATO. Meaning that, after we have finalised the accession talks, we will then sign an Accession Protocol and then this Accession Protocol has to be ratified in the different parliaments of the NATO Member States, 29 Member States. It varies a bit how long this takes, but I can give you two examples: when Montenegro joined, we invited Montenegro to start accession talks in December 2015, then we completed the accession talks in March 2016, so meaning 3 months, and then all 29 Allies had ratified by June 2017. So actually the thing that takes some time is the ratification in the different Member States. When Albania and Croatia joined, they were invited in April 2008 at the Bucharest Summit, and they joined in April 2009, one year later, so that was even faster. So we speak about something between one and one and a half years from when we invite to start accession talks until the country can be a full member. But as soon as we have signed the Accession Protocol, which normally takes just a few months - Montenegro 3 months - then the country will be invited to participate in all NATO meetings and will sit around the table and be a part of the NATO Council. So actually Montenegro started to participate in all NATO activities in March 2016, only three months after we started the accession talks. So this can go quite quickly; we speak about months. As soon as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has finalised the Agreement, meaning made the necessary changes in the Constitution, and then we can invite the country to join under its new name, the Republic of North Macedonia. So I really hope that the people of your country seize this opportunity; it’s an historic opportunity, and if this opportunity is turned down, then it’s very hard to imagine how we can once again come to a situation where you are so close to joining NATO. So it's for the people of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to decide, but we are ready to invite and to do it as quickly as possible and we speak about months.
PRIME MINISTER ZAEV: Let me add, I am glad that we have seen our place here, that our place here is ready, we have seen our place at the wall where all the Member States have been put, the place of Macedonia is there. We have seen the place where our flag is to be raised. I say this for our citizens: we are very close, General Secretary mentioned the deadlines. The reforms in Macedonia are at the top of priorities. Also I've been hearing criticisms that we have been focused on diplomatic missions too much solving the problems with Bulgaria and Greece but in parallel we were implementing our reforms. We have gone through the first stage, together with the opposition, we have voted the laws on the judiciary and the other important laws. We are now in the second and third stage. Now we have to be dedicated, to be full time dedicated, to the reforms and this NATO invitation is contributing to that, the date to start negotiations with the EU is there and I am sure we are motivated, both me and the Government and also our citizens will be motivated, knowing that we have our homework and we all have judicial obligations. I am convinced that this is definitely something valuable, something that generations from Macedonia's independence fought for, and finally it is within our reach. I am very happy today that also in two weeks we will be waiting for the decision but we know how decision-making goes here. We know that we will be invited and I am honoured, when I am a Prime Minister of the Government, to receive this invitation for a full NATO membership, also the dates to start the negotiations with the EU.
There are no talks to set up refugee camps. Let me mention once again we are following EU's and NATO's policies. We are not members, but we are seeing that we will become members. So in coordination with them, if there is new refugee flows together from now, since 2015, we will continue to work with together, but nobody has asked us to set up refugee camps.
MODERATOR: Final question.
QUESTION [Telma Televizija]: Have you received the official letter from Greece that Greece is prepared not to block Macedonia's membership to NATO? And what exactly have you discussed yesterday in your meeting with Prime Minister Tsipras?
JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: Mr Tsipras said yesterday, and he reiterated the Greek position that they are ready to welcome the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as a full member of NATO under its new name as soon as the agreement is fully implemented. And that’s exactly the same message that I convey to you today: that as soon as the agreement is fully implemented through the national processes in the two countries, then your country can be a full member of the Alliance. But we will, already in July - in two weeks - we will invite your country to start accession talks, and then we hope to be able to finish them within months, and as I said, as soon as we have finished the accession talks, we sign the Accession Protocol and then your country, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be participating in all NATO meetings and sit around the table together with all the other members.
MODERATOR: That’s all we have time for today.
JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: Thank you very much.