Opening remarks

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov at the Signature Ceremony of the Accession Protocol with Skopje.

  • 06 Feb. 2019 -
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  • Last updated: 06 Feb. 2019 15:48

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Foreign Minister of the invitee country, Nikola Dimitrov

JENS STOLTENBERG: It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to this meeting on the North Atlantic Council and a very warm welcome to Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov. It is a great pleasure to see you here in this room once again. In a few minutes that 29 Allies will sign the protocol for the accession of North Macedonia to the Alliance.

This is an historic occasion. Prime Minister Tsipras and Prime Minister Zaev showed great strategic vision and great courage when they signed the Prespa Agreement last year. Through their commitment to solving this long-standing disagreement Athens and Skopje have made a vital contribution to regional security and stability. The signing of the Prespa Agreement last year also marked the crucial first step on the road that brought us all here today.

This has not been an easy road; there have been challenges and difficult compromises. But, your commitment to democratic values, to reforms and to building strong institutions delivered real results and real progress. More security and stability in the region, a path of prosperity and full membership in the international community. And a seat at our table.

We have waited for you to join our family for a long time. For many years you have contributed to NATO operations, you have served side by side with NATO soldiers in Afghanistan. We have responded to natural disasters together and we have worked together on the forms which have prepared you to become the 30th member of our Alliance.

The signing of the succession protocol marks the start of the ratification process. I’m confident that this process will proceed smoothly and that we will soon be able to welcome you as a full member. As the ratification process continues in Allied capitals we expect you to continue to pursue reforms in order to enhance your country’s contribution to the Alliance.

For its part, NATO will continue to provide support and assistance to you. From today, your representatives will join us at this table and will be represented as an invitee at NATO meetings. Becoming the 30th member of NATO will help ensure long-term stability, sovereignty and security. You will help shape NATO policy. You will make decisions together with us. At the same time, you will be able to press ahead with the measures necessary for membership in the European Union. We share the same values, the same commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights. And we are dedicated to a vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace.

Today’s historic event demonstrates that NATO’s door remains open to democracies who are ready and willing to further the goals of the Washington Treaty and to shoulder the responsibilities of membership. I will now like to give the floor to Foreign Minister Dimitrov to speak. So, please take the floor.

NIKOLA DIMITROV: Thank you so much dear Secretary General, Jens. Ambassadors, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, friends - I just landed this morning from Washington DC so please bear with me. I am jetlagged, and I am very emotional. It has been a long journey. You mentioned Europe whole and free, and this was a pledge we did together with nine other nations back in 2000 where we signed the Vilnius Statement. Macedonia, soon to be North Macedonia - it’s a matter of days once the amendments to our constitution will enter into force in line with the Prespa Agreement - is the last nation of the Vilnius 10 that is still not part of the North Atlantic family. With this, we fulfil a promise, a commitment that our fathers – the founding fathers, members of parliament in the first composition between 91 and 94 made – on 23rd December 1993 that our major strategic goal is to join NATO. So, this is the result of the work of many generations and this was a duty of our generation. This was not inevitable; this was not even very likely to happen. This happened because of the leadership and I would like to acknowledge this here before the North Atlantic Council of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who paved the way towards this historic reconciliation proving that the impossible is actually doable and possible. I would like to also acknowledge the leadership of Prime Minister Bojko Borisov of Bulgaria who also encouraged us - first of all by signing the Friendship Treaty with Bulgaria - to go in this direction. In the movie Lawrence of Arabia there is a line that I think is applicable in this context. The line is: nothing is written until we write it. We can change our destiny, we can seize opportunities, and I think this is what we have done. For us, NATO is crossing the line of certainty and NATO, for us, is a family of nations that is about security. It is about stability.  It is about the values written in the Washington Treaty: rule of law, individual liberties and democracy. This is a family that strives to make our world more peaceful and a better place. This journey made us more mature. I think - with the recent developments and what we have achieved together with our neighbours - we have proven that we can assume our responsibility. We can face a problem and resolve those problems. In a matter of days we will finally resolve the last remaining dispute that we have with any of our neighbours. Our borders are set, and I think we can play a role that will be a very calming important role in a region that is still facing some pockets of uncertainties. The journey is not over, but, we won’t walk to bed alone any more. We will have 29 friends and allies beside us. We will focus on what we committed to do in the plan on the continuation of reforms both in terms of rule of law and the intelligence sector, as well as the defence reforms to make sure that our military is in line with the NATO doctrine and NATO standards. A country is as strong as its military. A country is as strong as the health of its democratic institutions.  But, also a country is as strong as the number of friends it has. And as of today, my nation is really strong. I am very happy. I am very thrilled. I feel a historic privilege to represent the Republic of Macedonia today and I would like to thank all the capitals and the ambassadors present here who really helped us in speeding up the procedure in terms of following their national … [inaudible] to authorise the ambassadors to sign the accession protocol. We are ready, we are here, we are able, and we are willing to assume our responsibilities from our membership and I will be visiting your capitals - some soon, some a bit later to encourage what I think will be an efficient ratification procedure of the accession protocol. Thank you so much.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much and many thanks also for your personal commitment to the process that made this day possible. And we really welcome the fact that from today on representatives from the government in Skopje will participate in NATO meetings, and we look forward to welcome you to the NATO Foreign Ministerial meeting in April where we are also going to celebrate the 70th anniversary of our Alliance. So, from today on we will change our relationship and that’s the reason why this is an historic day. We will now proceed with the signing ceremony and I will ask each Allied representative in turn to sign the accession protocol. I will now like to invite the representative of the Republic of Albania to sign the accession protocol.