Joint press point
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov
Foreign Minister Dimitrov, Dear Nikola,
It’s really great to see you here. Welcome back to NATO headquarters. You have been here before. But today is a special day since today we signed the accession protocol for your membership in the Alliance.
Today is a historic day for your country, and a proud day for us all.
NATO Ambassadors have just signed the Accession Protocol for the future Republic of North Macedonia.
I want to congratulate both Skopje and Athens for showing commitment and courage in reaching an agreement on the name issue.
We can now look to the future.
As Allies start to ratify the Protocol.
Once all Allies have ratified the Protocol, Skopje will become the 30th member of the Alliance.
Membership will give you a seat at the North Atlantic Council.
You will have an equal voice in shaping the decisions we take as Allies.
You already make important contributions to our shared security.
Contributing to our mission in Afghanistan;
Promoting regional cooperation in Southeast Europe;
And you are also implementing major reforms.
NATO keeps almost one billion citizens across Europe and North America secure.
And with you joining NATO there will be thirty countries committed to protect each other.
Your accession will bring more stability to the Western Balkans.
This is good for the region.
And for Euro-Atlantic security.
From today, your country will participate in NATO meetings as an “invitee”.
We look forward to welcoming Defence Minister Radmilla Shekerinska as early as next week.
And to inviting Prime Minister Zaev to the Leaders’ meeting.
I’m happy to announce that the Leaders meeting will take place in December in London.
London was our first Headquarters in 1949, so this is an ideal setting to mark NATO’s 70th anniversary.
We are grateful to the UK for agreeing to host the meeting.
And for playing a key role in our alliance over the decades.
Nikola, today’s signing of the accession protocol shows what diplomacy and statesmanship can achieve.
And I really look forward to seeing thirty Allied flags fly outside NATO headquarters.
So once again welcome to the NATO headquarters. Congratulations with the signing of the accession protocol. We look forward to welcoming you in at the NATO Foreign Ministerial Meeting in Washington in April. Welcome once again.
Nikola Dimitrov [Foreign Minister]: Thank you so much, dear Jens. This is an historic day. It’s been a long journey. We’ve had 18 cycles of the Membership Action Plan, to give you an illustration. And it didn’t just happen. I think as with people, for countries as well history doesn’t simply happen. You have to make it happen. And what I did with the North Atlantic Council I’m going to do also with you, the representatives of the media, the public. I’d like to acknowledge and praise the leadership of Prime Minister Zaev, of Prime Minister Tsipras. It was easier not to do this, so by no means this historic reconciliation was inevitable, it was not even likely. It was easier to sit in the trenches of history. It was easier to even score political points by maintaining the dispute, but what they dared to do was invest political capital for the benefit of the two peoples of the two nations and the whole region and NATO as a family, as an alliance.
I pledged our commitment to continue with what we promised, which is continue with the reforms, both on the side of the rule of law but also on the side of the intelligence sector reforms and the defence modernisation. A country is as strong as its military. It is also as strong as its democratic institutions are functional and healthy. But it is also as strong as the number of close friends it has. Our journey is not over, we look forward to parliaments in 29 Allies ratifying the Accession Protocol, but what’s important for us is we will never walk alone again. And we stand beside these 29 Allies, NATO member states, able and ready to assume the obligations arising from our full membership in NATO.
For us NATO is about making the world more peaceful, more stable. We will do our part when it comes to NATO missions and we will also do everything that we can to make sure that our region, south eastern Europe or the Balkans, is a region that is more predictable, more stable and more prosperous.
It has been a great day today. Thank you so much.
Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Okay. We have time for a couple of questions. Radio Free Europe.
Rikard Jozwiak [Radio Free Europe]: Rikard Jozwiak, Radio Free Europe. It’s for NATO Secretary General. We understand that Macedonia is politically ready, but are they militarily ready as well, considering that they only spend one percent of GDP on the military. The budget doesn’t look too great, their military is fairly small. So what do you say about the military preparedness of this potentially new member state?
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I think we have to understand that the enlargement of NATO with the future Republic of North Macedonia will strengthen NATO for different reasons. Partly through contributing stability in the south east of Europe. That is important for the whole Alliance. But partly they have shown that they can contribute to our shared security because the country is already participating in NATO missions and operations. We exercise together with them. They participate in our mission in Afghanistan and what we have seen is that they have been able to implement reforms - modernising their defence institutions, their security institutions - and they have clearly committed to continue to modernise and strengthen their defence institutions and armed forces. What we have seen is that defence spending is now going up, it’s increasing and it’s a clear commitment from the government in Skopje to meet the NATO guideline of spending two percent of GDP on defence by 2024. So, as many other Allies, they adapt, they invest and I look forward to having them as a full member because that will strengthen NATO. It will stabilise the region and it, of course, will provide the security guarantees for the future Republic of North Macedonia.
Oana Lungescu: Okay. We have Portuguese TV.
Susana Frexes [SIC Portugal]: Thank you. Susana Frexes, SIC Portugal. Actually my question is on the next meeting of the NATO leaders in London. I would like to understand why London, taking into account the Brexit process and when we don’t know whether the UK’s going to be part of the EU in December or not, is there a political message in this decision by, of course, the NATO? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: So Brexit will change UK’s relationship to the European Union but it will not change the United Kingdom’s relationship to NATO. So, for me, it’s perfectly natural that UK’s hosting the leaders meeting at the end of the year, not least because London was the first seat for the NATO headquarters back in 1949 when the Alliance was established, and the first Secretary General of the Alliance was actually a Brit. So Britain, United Kingdom, is a founding member of NATO and we started in London with our first headquarters. So we are extremely grateful to the government of the United Kingdom, to Prime Minister May, for offering to host the next leaders meeting. And that will be part of the way we mark the 70th anniversary of our Alliance.
Oana Lungescu: Okay. Georgian TV in yellow.
Tamara Nutsubidze [Rustavi 2]: Georgian TV, Rustavi 2, Tamara Nutsubidze. First of all, congratulations and as you know this day also very important for Georgia, for our people. What do you think, would does it show and what does it mean for Georgia? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: It shows that NATO’s door remains open for countries that meet NATO standards and that adhere to the NATO values of democracy, the rule of law and individual liberty. And we are very encouraged by what we see in Georgia: the commitment to reforms, the commitment to strengthening defence and security institutions, transparency, judiciary reforms. And, therefore, we welcome also the very clear commitment by NATO leaders at the summit in July that Georgia will become a member of the Alliance. They reiterated the decision we made back in Bucharest in 2008. And we have actually stepped up the cooperation with Georgia. We are grateful for all the support Georgia provides to NATO in NATO missions and operations, but also we see that NATO is actually stepping up support and cooperation with Georgia. So we will continue to support Georgia as it moves towards NATO membership.
Oana Lungescu: Open TV, Greece.
[Open TV, Greece]: I don’t want to bring bad news, but is there any way that this procedure of Skopje’s accession in NATO can go wrong and political resolutions can play any role by both countries in NATO? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: I can start on that, perhaps Nikola can add some remarks. But just to say that I’m really impressed by the courage, by the political will, by the commitment of both the government in Athens and the government in Skopje, and especially the leadership of Prime Minster Tsipras and Prime Minister Zaev. Because this is really leaders who have been able to make history, to shape history. They have done so by overcoming divisions, solving an issue that has been a big problem for the region, for the countries and actually also for both the aspirations to enlarge NATO and the European Union. So the signing of the Accession Protocol today is an historic event. Then, it has to be ratified by parliaments in all the member states. But I am very confident that that ratification will go, will also take place in a smooth way. We don’t expect any surprises. But at the same time it has to be a ratification process in all the Allied capitals. I am not able to tell you exactly how fast or how much time we’ll need to ratify in all the parliaments because that’s for each individual Ally to decide. But, last time we had an enlargement with Montenegro this ratification process took one year. And in the meantime, the future Republic of North Macedonia will participate in NATO meetings as an invitee, starting with the Defence Ministerial meeting next week.
Nikola Dimitrov [Foreign Minister]: Maybe … or you want to pose another question? Two, two brief points. One on the defence spending. Question: Macedonia, soon to be North Macedonia, it’s a matter of days when the amendments to the constitution will enter into force, used to be over two percent back in 2008. At the time of Bucharest Summit we were at 2.17. In one phase we were the fourth per capita contributary nation to ISAF in Afghanistan. We were mostly providing security for the NATO HQ in Kabul and many visitors would see the flag on our soldiers there. We are a government that is in office 20 months. We are firmly committed to go back to where we were in terms of our preparedness. We have a new strategic defence review. We are working on defence planning with two strong Allies to make sure that not only we increase spending, and we have increased for 2 percentage points in this budget compared to last year’s budget, but also how we spend to make it more useful for us but also for the Alliance. We will end the term of this government not too far from two percent and we will be over two percent before the agreed deadline of 2024. On whether we foresee obstacles, I will only quote Zoran, our Prime Minster, who says, “The bigger the obstacle, the more magnificent the success”. Where we started, it looked impossible. Now that it is done, of course, it looks possible. And I have to say that personally I’d like to share a fundamental sense of accomplishment of doing something right and I think we will convince even the opponents of this reconciliation to come to our side once they see the results. I don’t think there is a more noble, more fundamental job for diplomacy but in making friends and allies between neighbouring counties.
Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much. This concludes this press point. Thank you.