Joint press conference
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev
Prime Minister Zaev,
My friend Zoran,
Thank you for welcoming me and my delegation and the North Atlantic Council here to Skopje. This is a historic visit, the first ever visit of the North Atlantic Council to your country.
Our visit sends a clear message: we are ready to welcome you into the NATO family.
In February, we signed the Accession Protocol for North Macedonia.
It was a historic moment for your country and for the whole Alliance.
I commend you for your leadership in solving the name issue.
Together with Prime Minister Tsipras, you showed great political courage and vision.
It was this agreement which made your accession to NATO possible.
You are building a better future for your country. North Macedonia already has a seat at NATO’s table. Foreign Minister Dimitrov joined us in Washington in April to mark the seventieth anniversary of our Alliance.
And this month, Minister Sekerinska will once again attend the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Brussels.
Once all Allies have ratified the Accession Protocol, North Macedonia will become the 30th member of our Alliance.
NATO membership will bring greater security and prosperity for all the people of North Macedonia. You will take part in developing NATO policy. Your voice will be as important in the decisions we make as that of any other NATO Ally. To keep our countries safe, secure and prosperous.
Because security is the basis for prosperity.
And we have already seen that foreign investment in North Macedonia has increased over threefold in the last year.
Today, we discussed North Macedonia’s integration into the Alliance, and your progress on reforms.
Including on the rule of law, security and intelligence, and in the defence sector. Continuing the pace of reforms is important, as you prepare for full membership. We will continue to support you on this path.
NATO and North Macedonia already worked together very closely. Our soldiers serve together in Afghanistan. And you have also provided valuable support to our peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.
This shows your commitment to international peace and security. And we are really grateful for this commitment and your contributions.
So Prime Minister Zaev,
Throughout NATO’s history, our open door policy has been a success, strengthening our Alliance and contributing to Euro-Atlantic security. You will soon be part of that success.
I look forward to the day when North Macedonia becomes a full member of NATO.
So once again thank you so much.
QUESTION [Telma Television]: First question to the Secretary General. You mentioned the reforms that Macedonia should fulfil, except increasing the defence budget. What should our country do in order to achieve the full capacity for NATO and to be compatible? And to the Prime Minister, you mentioned the ratifications that are speeding. Turkey had an announcement in April, after the delivery of [inaudible; 00:10:41]. And afterwards they stated that they will not obstruct the ratification protocol. However Turkey has not announced anything. Do you have any announcement? Is it possible for Turkey to slow down the ratification of the protocol and to become an obstacle? So, Secretary General, any comment on this?
JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, I think it is important to commend North Macedonia for the reforms you have already implemented. That’s the reason why 29 NATO Allies actually agreed to sign the accession protocol and these reforms, they are about your defence and security institutions, making sure that you have institutions within . . . when it comes to, for instance, intelligence, but also defence and security, that are reliable, that work and that can operate together with defence and security and also intelligence institutions in the other NATO Allied countries. We expect and we are absolutely certain that you will continue to implement the reforms in these areas. This is important for North Macedonia. It is important for your membership in NATO, but it also is a way to actually strengthen further your Euro-Atlantic ambitions. So these reforms are of high value for you and for your Euro-Atlantic integration. Then, of course, you’re also expected to continue to increase defence spending and to meet the pledge of spending 2 percent of GDP on defence. We commend North Macedonia for the increase we have seen already and a clear commitment to continue to increase. And, as I said, this has also great benefits for North Macedonia because it provides security. NATO is the most successful alliance in history. We protect all Allies against any threat, and that’s good for all of us, based on the principle one for all, all for one. And I come from a small country in the north of Europe, Norway. It has benefited my country a lot to be part of an alliance. And I’m absolutely certain it will benefit North Macedonia too, to be part of this Alliance. It also provides the foundation for prosperity. Security is a precondition for economic development and prosperity. We already see that growth is picking up, investments into North Macedonia are increasing, all of this is good for the region and for North Macedonia. Then I didn’t understand, actually, that last question. Was that to me, or was that to . . . ?
ZORAN ZAEV: Thank you for the question. On the meetings here, in parallel with yesterday’s meeting, we had information the other 16 member states, when are they planning to ratify the accession protocol. Some of them mentioned that this will happen towards the end of June, beginning of July, some of them September and October. And Turkey is one of our greatest friends. Their expectation is that when all political election processes will end they will start the procedure. There was an announcement from their officials. They will continue to support our country and probably they will ratify the accession protocol as soon as possible. Our Ministers of Justice and the Interior are in cooperation on other open issues that you mentioned, this cooperation will continue in future, according to all international standards and principles that are valid for the Republic of Turkey and for the Republic of North Macedonia. But, definitely, Turkey is one of our greatest friends and I believe that this will be proven again. In fact, they’re proving it every day in all the segments of . . . in all the area of our cooperation.
MODERATOR: We’ll continue with the questions.
QUESTION [Politica]: I am Zeljko Sajn from Politika. Mr Stoltenberg, yesterday there was a message that NATO will protect the territorial integrity in Kosovo. On what international agreement, contract or right can NATO protect the Balkan countries that are not members of NATO? And what is that territorial integrity on Kosovo, if we do not have an agreement between Pristina and Brussels? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO is present in Kosovo through our KFOR mission, which has a clear international mandate. And we are there to create stability, peace and to protect all communities in Kosovo, also the Serbs. And therefore we are, of course, also working closely in contact with all the communities in Kosovo, to make sure that we are, every day, delivering on our mandate to provide stability and security for all the people in Kosovo. That’s our mandate. That’s our mission in Kosovo. Then we understand that there is also a need for a political solution. And therefore we would strongly support the . . . that the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade can again move forward, that we can have a resumption of that dialogue because, in the long run, that’s the only way to solve the differences and the disputes we see related to Kosovo. And in that context, I think what Prime Minister Zaev has done and what the government of North Macedonia has done and agreed with Greece on the name issue, is a model for this region as a model for . . . for Kosovo and the whole region, because it shows that it is possible to overcome past differences, to overcome historical disagreements, not to forget about the past, but to not let the past destroy for the future, but actually overcome the differences and then move together into the future. So, the Prespa agreement, the progress North Macedonia has made, and agreement with Greece, is important for North Macedonia, but is also of great inspiration and . . . and is actually a model for the rest of the region to overcome past differences and then move into the future together.
MODERATOR: The last question please?
QUESTION: To Prime Minister Zaev, but also to the guest, Stoltenberg. Macedonia for the past years has been on a map of fake news creators and internet manipulation. Last week, NATO had a meeting that was focussed on hybrid war and the capacity of the Allies to exchange information, in order to prevent these attacks. How much is Macedonia ready? Is it exchanging already? And are you going to put a special focus on this issue, so that it can respond to the needs of the Alliance?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We have seen, in different NATO Allied countries, that disinformation, use of social media propaganda, has been tools which has been used to try to undermine the trust in our democratic institutions. Tools that have been used to try to meddle in domestic political processes and this is, of course, not acceptable. We need to respond to this in many different ways. Part of this is about defending our cyber networks, but partly it’s also about responding to the disinformation and the propaganda we see. And I strongly believe that the best answer to disinformation or to propaganda is not counterpropaganda, but the best information to disinformation is the fact . . . facts and, and the truth. Because I strongly believe that, in the long run, the truth will prevail. And the best way to make sure that we have the truth, that we have facts, that we have an open debate, is to have a free and independent press. To have journalists asking difficult questions, journalists checking their sources, journalists, media, making sure that we have different views on the same topic and a free and open debate. So, for NATO, the most important thing we can do is actually to make sure that we live up to the democratic values our Alliance is based on: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and a free and independent press, which is not, as I say, victims of disinformation and propaganda, but, but provide the facts. That’s the best way to make sure that we also have strong and independent democratic processes and institutions. And one of the things I would like to actually commend, again, North Macedonia for, is that you have been able to overcome some really serious difficulties, but now . . . that you have a stronger democracy now, that you have been able to conduct free and fair elections and . . . and that you have an open debate and you have actually a lot of journalists here, asking difficult questions and doing the work journalists should do in open and democratic society.
ZORAN ZAEV: Thank you for your question. As the Secretary General said, the true values of NATO, are rule of law, overall and comprehensive freedoms, democratic processes among which the media freedom, we are proud that we managed in a year to move the freedom of the country for about 14 positions, and I think that we should work a lot to improve this. But the freedom of the media exactly brings the fake news. We are monitoring all the process and abide to the processes initiated by NATO, how the member states are getting ready and are providing modules. We are already working on cybersecurity, The Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence have already undertaken some steps, including the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Information Society. We also work with the Association of Journalists and we believe that the true facts, with the first response of the institutions themselves, are the greatest tool for fight against the fake news and we will continue to respond and to react with true facts, because sometimes the fake news may bring damage to certain people, institutions et cetera. As a future NATO member state, we will fully adapt to the positive experiences coming from our partners from the Alliance, because we are a country that is developing, we have many more countries that have better experience, and we need the cooperation from the media community. I believe that we’ll have this support and we’ll all contribute to becoming even better democratic society for all.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Dear journalists, this is the end of the press conference joint between the Prime Minister and the Secretary General.