Andrey Kovatchev: We will emerge from this pandemic more united

A major concern for the EU is a second wave of infections which could prove even more devastating to the economy

The European integration of North Macedonia depends on its ability to overcome the inherited hatred that has been dividing us and to muster up the courage to break the cycle of perpetuating lies with every young generation, says Andrey Kovatchev, MEP from EPP/GERB, in an interview to Monitor.

Mr Kovatchev, the Joint Commission on Historical and Educational Matters set up by Bulgaria and North Macedonia has not had meetings for the past couple of months. What is the reason behind that?

Unfortunately, a significant portion of the political elite and historians in North Macedonia lack the courage to step outside the Yugoslavian matrix and to start relying on historical facts, as is required by the principles set out in the Agreement on Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation. Several days ago, I heard a comment made by Dragi Georgiev, who co-chairs the commission for the Skopje side. He said that this is a very difficult decision for them because it has to be embraced by society, which is impossible at this point in time. However, the agreement refers to results that are based on historical documents only; there is no mention of the commission's decisions having to be embraced by society, in either of the countries. It would be like us working on a scientific project in some area and not publishing the results of the research because they would not be received well by the nation. Let us not go back to the Middle Ages when divergence of opinion was dangerous. It is the 21st century and we should be long past such a way of thinking. We need an awakening and for the agreement to be observed. The commission has to base its work on historical sources from the relevant era. After all, it is composed of scholars. It has been 70 years since the Yugoslavian regime and the pushing of certain theses through the educational system.

Based on everything you say, we cannot help but question whether this agreement is actually working and useful?

Absolutely! It's important to go over the entire period - from the moment when the then-Republic of Macedonia gained independence, to now. Bulgaria was the first country to recognise its independence. Then we donated military equipment to the new state so it can fend off potential Yugoslavian forays. During the civil war of 2001 we stood firmly in support of preserving the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Macedonia. We were also the first country to ratify the protocol on its NATO accession. This is why the first ever Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU had as one of its priorities to convince the European partners that the bloc's enlargement is of extreme importance, and that the countries of the Western Balkans should be members of the EU and NATO. We have always acted in a spirit of cooperation, and we are doing it again now. All we want is for history to be truthfully presented and for Bulgaria not to be used as an instrument for gaining political dividends in election campaigns. It is very sad.

So what is North Macedonia's path to the EU?

It depends on North Macedonia and its ability, on its way to European integration, to overcome what has been dividing us - hatred inherited from the past - and to muster up the courage to break the cycle of perpetuating lies with every young generation. We cannot be happy with a situation in which our neighbouring country's doctrine is rooted in fabrications and manipulations. I am glad that dissenting voices can now be heard over there, of people who are aware of the truth.

Has Euroscepticism gained ground as a result of the coronavirus pandemic? It is a topic that cannot be overlooked.

At the beginning, European institutions were late to respond to the pandemic and allowed a window of about two weeks in which we saw anti-European propaganda. It was repeatedly asserted that countries outside of the EU were doing more to help Italy and Spain.

It was also argued that we had violated one of the bloc's core values - freedom of movement. Was that true?

Temporary measures like the ones that were introduced are unavoidable in emergency situations of this nature. The goal is to contain the rate of infections. But there is no doubt that the EU stands by all countries that need help. This week, the European Parliament will once again vote on a resolution on financial assistance under the so-called recovery fund. It envisions financial aid as well as long-term loans for countries most in need of financial backing in order to overcome the health crisis and repair the hardest-hit sectors of the economy - services, tourism, transport - so that there is free movement of people again. As you know, green corridors were provided for transport of goods, which solved that particular issue. Now we need rules providing the parameters for restoring freedom of movement for European citizens in the new reality of social distancing. A major concern for the entire EU is a second wave of infections which could prove even more devastating to the economy.

What is the way out of this pandemic and do you predict any permanent effects on our behaviour?

A lot of things will certainly change. More money will be invested in IT, in apps for different services provided remotely. This pandemic will have its permanent impact on transport and international trade. The EU needs to prepare itself for the next crisis and not be as dependent on supply from India and China when it comes to drugs and personal protective equipment.

Will we emerge more united from this crisis or will it divide us?

I am optimistic that this pandemic will bring us closer together. We know that united we are stronger. If any country believes it can cope with such a situation on its own, it is wrong. Despite the initial communication problems regarding assistance and the attempts to tear us apart and sow fear, I think we have come to the realisation that together we can persevere. Even before the pandemic, there was an ongoing discussion about the future of the EU and the instruments needed to make the bloc more effective. At the outset of the pandemic, the criticism levelled against the EU centred on why it failed to shut down restaurants immediately. But the reality is that the European Commission lacks such powers. There should be guidelines, especially regarding free movement of people, but the closure of hotels, for example, is a decision on a micro level that lies within the competence of individual countries.



Andrey Kovatchev was born on 13 December 1967 in Sofia. He graduated the University of Saarland, Germany, and has a PhD degree in natural sciences. Kovatchev is a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on Human Rights, as well as the Delegation for Relations with the United States of the European Parliament. He is a substitute of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and the Delegation to the EU-Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Joint Parliamentary Committee. Before becoming a MEP, he has worked as Commercial Manager for Bulgaria of the Swedish company Alfa Laval Agri/Tetra Pak, and as director for the Commonwealth of Independent States of the US company John Deere International.

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