«A Conversation with Carlos Flores Juberías»: Entrevista en el UMD Voice de la primavera de 2010.


1.          Please tell us a little about your professional academic background, how that has lead to your keen interest in Macedonian affairs, and your special role as Honorary Consul in Valencia.

My interest in Macedonia was originally linked with my professional activity: I am professor of Comparative Constitutional Law at the University of Valencia Law School, and most of my research has been devoted to the analysis of political transitions, democratic consolidation, and European integration in post communist Europe. I had the chance to visit Macedonia several times during the second half of the nineties, and this led to a series of academic essays on the Macedonian case, and also to the establishment of very fruitful contacts with some well-known members of the Macedonian academic community, which have only increased and fortified since.

I understand that my nomination as honorary consul of Macedonia in the Valencian Community in 2008 was basically motivated by this academic interest, and by my sympathy towards the Macedonian people and my full support to the cause of Macedonian integration in Europe. It was simultaneous to the arrival to Madrid of the current Ambassador, H. E. Metodija Belevski, the first Macedonian Ambassador to Spain ever, with whom I have been closely cooperating since. Although the number of Macedonians living in Spain is rather small, it is important that Macedonia is frequently present and properly portrayed in the Spanish media, that its role in the stabilization of the Balkan region is given due consideration, that the commercial relations between Spain and Macedonia are intensified, and that its cultural richness and national identity becomes better known.

2.         Since independence in 1991, what has been Macedonia’s greatest political success story? On the other hand, what has been Macedonia’s greatest political failure?

For Macedonia, to exist is in itself a major success. What I mean is that not many political analysts believed, back in 1991, than almost two decades later Macedonia would still be an independent, sovereign and democratic State, and even less so that it would have been able in the meanwhile to keep its borders safe, and to stay away of the many bloody conflicts that dominated the post Yugoslav space for most of the last decade.

As a legal scholar I am quite eager to point out that good portion of this success has been due to the fact that Macedonia was able to pass a rather inclusive constitutional text back in 1991, and that Macedonian leaders of all parties and ethnic communities proved to be smart –and humble enough– as to introduce the necessary changes in 2001 in order to make it even more consensual and inclusive, and therefore more acceptable for everyone. On the other hand, as a political scientist I would like to underline the beneficial effect of the recurrent practice of forming fairly inclusive and stable coalition cabinets, not along, but across ethic lines.

Now, talking about major failures, I am well aware that what usually comes to one’s mind in the first place is the failure to complete Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. But I don’t believe this failure has been due to Macedonia’s lack of preparation or commitment, but to external factors over which little or no influence could be exerted from the Macedonian side. On the contrary, it should be recognized that the country has made an enormous effort on both areas, the best proof of which is the fact that despite the Greek veto, it is still way ahead other Western Balkan countries in its route towards the EU, and it has been regarded as having fulfilled all conditions for NATO membership.

3.         Worldwide, 128 nations have recognized Macedonia under its constitutional name, including 4 of 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council. The political battle continues, but have the Macedonians already won the de facto “culture war” over the name?

Definitely, yes. Whatever might happen with the name controversy at the diplomatic level, what you call “the culture war over the name” has already been won by Macedonia. Over the years I have met very few institutions, and even fewer people who feel comfortable referring to Macedonia with any but its constitutional name, and even among those who for some reason have found themselves legally obliged to use the acronym “FYROM” I have been able to perceive they were doing so with a certain sense of embarrassment. And never, ever, have I met any person who, after having learned about the origin and the reasons for the controversy, and having listened to the arguments of both parties involved, has not ended up sympathizing with the Macedonian side, and supporting the right of the Macedonian people to choose the name they want to be called by.

4.         In 2008 and 2009, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s accession to the EU and to NATO, despite Macedonia’s fulfillment of all requirements. Macedonia has also taken Greece to the International Court of Justice over it, as Article 11 of the 1995 Interim Accord prohibits Greece from interfering in Macedonia’s accession to international organizations. How do you see this process evolve over the coming year?

I am confident in a rapid and positive response from the International Court of Justice regarding the Macedonian claim that Greek interference in its plight to become a member of NATO and to start negotiations with the EU is in clear violation of the 1995 Interim Accord. This would surely provide Macedonian diplomacy with a powerful argument to defend its position, while weakening the thesis that the name issue should be regarded as relevant enough as to block the debate of any other question until it has been satisfactorily resolved.

However, one should not rule out the possibility of a more balanced ruling in which a decision favorable in principle for Macedonia is matched by some nominal compensation for Greece, or an intentionally obscure legal reasoning that may lead to contradictory interpretations.

5.          Macedonia’s EU accession talks were effectively vetoed during Sweden’s rotating presidency, as and the matter was deferred until Spain takes over. What significance, if any, does Spanish presidency have over this process?

I don’t believe there are grounds for much optimism regarding the Spanish Presidency of the EU in this, or for the same matter, in any other area. At this point Spain is in the middle of a major economic crisis and suffering from a dramatic rise in unemployment, than has put the socialist Government is in a very delicate situation; while other problems –like regional tensions, confrontation with the church, or public deficit– have also been growing in intensity. While some believed that the Spanish Government would benefit from the intense international visibility and the generous press coverage that the rotating Presidency of the European Union usually brings with it, the perception now is that the undeniable leadership crisis that Spain is now witnessing is going affect in a very negative manner its performance in Europe. It is for that reason that I would rather expect a discreet presidency –at the most–, or even a failed one –in the worst, not at all impossible, scenario.

Anyway, we ought to keep an eye –and hope for the best– on the Summit called in May between the EU and the Western Balkans States.

6.         Popular support for Euro-Atlantic integration remains high among Macedonians, despite the status quo. At what point, do you think Macedonian patience will begin to run out, and what are the possible consequences?

Experience drawn from previous enlargement processes shows that most of them start enjoying an almost unanimous popular support, even an enthusiastic one, since incorporation to the European Union is seen as a guarantee of political stability, economic development, international influence, and security. But whenever the negotiating process happens to go at an slower pace than expected, or to last more than it was –probably, with an excess of optimism– initially predicted, or whenever the social and political costs of adjusting to EU demands start to become more evident, people begin to feel disillusioned and even betrayed by European institutions, and support for integration begins to fade.

In my opinion, Macedonia is getting to this point right now, so it is important that the Macedonian institutions tell the people with absolute clarity that the process ahead will be a lengthy and tough one, that there will be difficult decisions to take, and that there will be no shortcuts. For candidate countries popular support for European integration is a must, and the people should understand that a dwindling support for that goal will only make things more complicated for their negotiators, giving arguments to those who would be happy to say Macedonia is not ready for Europe yet.

7.          In December 2009, the EU’s Lisbon Treaty came into force. Will this have any impact on the ability of individual EU member states to “wag the dog” as it were, and dictate European policy over clearly bilateral issues?

While it is true that the Lisbon Treaty has introduced substantial changes in the EU decision-making process, and that from now on many decisions will be taken by qualified majority, and not by unanimity as it happened before, it should not be forgotten that all these new formulas will only enter into force in 2014, and in some cases in 2017. Nor should it be forgotten that for a candidate State to join the EU unanimity will still be the rule, since at the end of the negotiating process all member States have to agree on a new admission, and any of them maintains the right to refuse it.

However, it should not be forgotten that EU policies are always the result of extremely complex power and influence games, in which every positioning and every decision of a Member State has consequences and costs. In this context, there are only two possible strategies for Macedonia: the easy one consists in unquestioningly giving Greece whatever Greece demands, now and in the future, thus becoming a totally subservient State worth the endorsement of its southern neighbor; the tough one requires fulfilling EU and NATO’s requirements for administrative modernization, economic liberalization, and technical adaptation to the acquis communautaire in the most effective imaginable manner, while at the same time building a coalition of supportive member-States which at a given moment could turn Greece’s vetoing right into a too costly decision. In my opinion, this tough strategy is right now the only way of accessing NATO and the EU compatible with the preservation of Macedonia’s national dignity.

8.         Which European Union member states do you see as most sympathetic to Macedonia, and which are seen as more sympathetic to Athens?

In the EU politics sympathy and encouraging gestures are always easy to find. But what a country like Macedonia needs is support, and commitment, and not everybody is ready to move from good words to sound policies.

Regarding my own country, I am sad to admit that Spain counts among the countries which will follow, but not lead, any position adopted by a majority of EU member States regarding the Skopje-Athens differendum. In fact, the only occasion in the recent years in which Spain has stubbornly refused to follow the majority of EU member States, sticking to its own points of view, has been the case of Kosovo. Spain is one of the few EU countries that have refused to recognize Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, due in part to the appreciation that this decision had been taken in violation of International Law, in part out of fear that this might give arguments to separatist parties in Spain itself. Had Macedonia stuck to its initial position of not recognizing Kosovo might have helped building a better understanding between the two countries.

9.         As you know, Greece does not recognize any ethnic minorities, despite large communities of ethnic Macedonians, Albanians, Turks, Roma, and others, and minority religious rights are similarly oppressed. What is it going to take for minority rights to be taken seriously in Greece?

I am not myself a big supporter of the notion of “collective” or “minority rights”, basically because I believe that too often the insertion of individuals in those communities is made at the cost of individual freedoms. On the contrary, I believe that a generous, and fully guaranteed recognition of the most basic individual freedoms –among which religious freedom, freedom of speech, including the right to express yourself in your mother tongue, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of the press should be counted first– might provide a sufficiently wide margin of liberty for any individual to engage in collective action with those with whom he or she shares a common ethnic identity, a common language or a common set of religious beliefs. As a EU member State Greece –like Bulgaria– should do nothing but to fully guarantee those rights to any of its citizens, regardless of their ethnic background.

(Por Mark Branov, editor)