The agreement reached between Athens and Skopje to rename the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has “opened a new page” for the two countries and is "good news" for Europe, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in an interview with Kathimerini, published on Sunday.
Maas said he was ”very impressed” by the “patience and resilience” Athens and Skopje showed as they worked to find a solution to the 27-year-old name issue.
“If the agreement is implemented, it will not only be a success for your countries, but also for those who believe in the power of diplomacy and reconciliation,” he said.
Maas, in his first visit to Athens as foreign minister, discussed the Greece-FYROM name deal and developments in the Balkans with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias and the leader of the main opposition, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, among others.
The German minister said Greece's exit from its third bailout after eight years of strict supervision is “an important step to overcome the crisis” which has “caused much suffering” to Greeks and Greece.
Asked about the ongoing talks between Serbia and Kosovo to resolve outstanding issues, he said the only appropriate way to do this is to have more “tolerance and acceptance of diversity,” while any attempts to abolish this diversity through border changes is “dangerous.”
Asked whether EU's fears over Russia's rising influence in the Western Balkans was the main reason behind the bloc's eagerness to revive its enlargement plan in the region, Maas said the aim of the European project is not to form spheres of influence but to promote the principles of freedom, democracy and solidarity.
Commenting on German-Turkish relations, which have been strained by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s post-coup purge of the civil service and military in which some German citizens were imprisoned, the minister said that both countries have an interest in normalizing bilateral ties. He said that during his recent visit to the country, he got the impression that the Turkish leadership shares the same approach.
Turning on EU foreign policy, he said Europeans must speak with a single voice if they want to match competition from global powers such as the US, Russia and China. Neither Germany, nor Greece can impose their will. "We are both too small for that," he said.