Berlin rejects criticism from Skopje | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 11.03.2016
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Berlin rejects criticism from Skopje

Macedonia's president has accused the EU of leaving his country in the lurch. In an interview with a German newspaper, he also said Germany was refusing to cooperate on security issues. Berlin has rejected the criticism.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the government could not understand the harsh criticism from Gjorge Ivanov, president of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (pictured), in his interview with the German tabloid, "Bild." Since the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, Germany has played a large role in the stabilization of the region, Seibert said.

Germany also supports the reform efforts of the Western Balkan states with extensive programs designed to steer the countries toward the European Union. Between 2014 and 2020, Macedonia alone was set to receive 664 million euros in EU money.

In August 2014, Merkel launched an annual Western Balkans conference to encourage concrete project partnerships in order to strengthen European perspectives in the region. Since 2009, the EU Commission has recommended starting accession talks with Macedonia.

'Millions of euros in aid'

Seibert said the German government was well aware of the fact that Macedonia has been especially burdened by the large number of refugees crossing its territory. But he also rejected Ivanov's claim that Macedonia hasn't received "a single cent" in aid money.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert

Berlin spokesman Steffen Seibert has rejected the criticism

The EU has given Macedonia a total of 52 million euros to help with the refugee crisis, Seibert said.

Responding to claims that Germany has refused to cooperate in the exchange of data on suspected Islamist militants, a spokesperson from the Interior Ministry said there could be no question that Germany is cooperating with Macedonia on counter terrorism measures. However, Germany must comply with the laws regarding the exchange of information, particularly when it comes to sharing personal data on German citizens with authorities abroad.

Since April 2015, Macedonia has been taking part in a Europol program focused on foreign fighters, the spokesperson said, meaning that information exchanges are also possible via Europol. The ministry said that, as far as it was aware, Macedonia has received data on foreign fighters in this way, making the accusations leveled in the interview difficult to understand.

Message to the nation

"The interview was clearly about domestic policy in Macedonia," said Eckart Stratenschulte, president of the European Academy in Berlin. The Balkans expert told DW that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia government was under massive pressure from the EU to hold democratic early parliamentary elections on April 24. "This was about discrediting the EU and defusing its criticism of the government and the situation in Macedonia," he said.

A woman hangs a blanket at the border fence of the Greek Macedonian borders, near the village of Idomeni on March 8, 2016, where thousands of refugees and migrants are stranded.

Non-EU member Macedonia is preventing the influx of further migrants and refugees into the EU

Accusations of government corruption from the opposition led to a months-long national blockade until former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who had governed the country since 2006, resigned in January. The opposition party SDSM also boycotted parliament since the presidential and parliamentary elections held on April 27, 2014. The boycott ended on September 1, 2015.

"You have to look at Mr. Ivanov's behavior in the context of the catastrophic state of Macedonian politics," said Josip Juratovic of the Social Democrats party (SPD), rapporteur for Southeast Europe for the Bundestag's foreign affairs committee. "This kind of interview allows Ivanov to be seen as a strong man at home," Juratovic told DW. He also doesn't think that the accusations about a lack of aid for Macedonia are justified. Germany has been supporting the country during the refugee crisis both financially, and with expertise.

EU border control left to Macedonia

Although Balkans expert Stratenschulte found Ivanov's style "inappropriate," he said two points of criticism were understandable: Several EU states are leaving Macedonia to deal with the task of EU border control. "That is a result of the February 24 Balkan summit, to which Germany and Greece were not invited. Macedonia, however, did take part," said Stratenschulte.

He added that there was another factor adding to Skopje's frustration: That the EU has been recommending the start of accession talks since 2009, but that the process has barely moved forward since. One of the reasons for this is Greece's continuing blockade of Macedonia's accession bid.