- Wednesday, February 21, 2018 3:58 PM
Berlin, 21 February 2018 (MIA) - Germany strongly supports the strategic commitment of Macedonia to joining the EU and NATO, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev was told at Wednesday's meeting in Berlin with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"Macedonia got strong support from Germany for its strategic commitment, EU and NATO membership. What we need to do is to keep implementing reforms and keep seeking solution to the dispute with Greece. These are difficult issues, but we will find a solution, and both the opposition and the head of state will be involved, as well as the citizens by asking them to voice their opinion," stated Zaev.
At the meeting, it was concluded that Macedonia wrapped up 2017 as a particularly successful story.
"We have managed to initiate processes to settle longstanding differences with our neighbors," Zaev said referring to the friendship treaty with Bulgaria and the renewed name talks with Greece.
The Macedonian government is committed to solving issues with its neighbors and to developing regional cooperation, according to him.
Zaev invited Merkel to visit Macedonia this year.
The Chancellor said Germany backed Macedonia's efforts to integrate into the EU and NATO, but noted that every country was evaluated according to its merits in fulfilling the required criteria.
According to Merkel, it's not the date for accessing the Union that counts, it is a matter of whether a certain country has met the criteria.
Asked when she expected the Western Balkan countries to become members, Merkel said reforms were the key.
"We are focused on seeing reforms being implemented, not so much so on dates. Once they have matured, they would join. There are conditions, criteria of the European Commission, as long as they are met, a country can become a member. Whether the country becomes a member sooner or later, it depends on the implementation of reforms," she stressed.
The Berlin Process, Merkel added, aims to intensify contacts between the six Western Balkan countries and the role played at the moment by Bulgaria - the current holder of the EU presidency - has its own benefit.
She mentioned the Western Balkans Summit in May in Sofia, followed by a meeting in London with the participants in the Berlin Process.
Projects in the sphere of transport connectivity were pinpointed as being of major importance for the region. According to Merkel, such initiatives are carried out in all countries.
Asked to comment on possible Russian influence on Macedonia's ambitions for joining the EU and NATO, PM Zaev said Macedonia had no other alternative, but the country wanted to foster good relations with all countries.
"We are a small country, we want to have relations with all countries, and we certainly want to improve our relations with Russia, but we have no other alternative but full-fledged membership to NATO and the EU," stressed Zaev.
Furthermore, the Macedonian Premier said Germany expressed its support to Macedonia's economy. Germany, Zaev said, is the number one trade partner of Macedonia and one of its most important strategic partners.
Bilateral trade exchange annually is estimated at EUR 3.6 billion. 200 Germany companies operate in Macedonia, where 20,000 have been opened. Zaev invited German companies to continue to invest in Macedonia for which they would be strongly supported by the government.
Referring to defense cooperation, PM Zaev noted that over 200 Macedonian officers had been trained by the German army and Macedonian servicemen deployed in Afghanistan were under Germany's command.
Also, Zaev said the possibility of the countries concluding a deal on mutual recognition of driver's licences was being discussed.
PM Zaev, who leads a government delegation in Berlin comprised of Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska, Deputy PM in charge of European affairs Bujar Osmani, Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, is expected later in the day to meet with Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. ba/15:57
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