ATHENS — Prime Ministers of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis and of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev reviewed bilateral relations and examined the opportunities for collaboration in the sectors of economy and energy, at a meeting in Athens on Thursday.
Zaev is in Athens to participate in the Delphi Economic Forum VI, based at Zappeion Hall.
At their meeting, which was also attended by the Foreign Affairs Minister and Deputy Minister, Greece reiterated its support for North Macedonia's accession to the EU, contingent to established rules, respect of good neighborhoold relations, and the faithful adherence to the obligations set out at the Prespes Agreement the two countries signed in 2018.
On his side, Zaev called Greece "our main neighbor and our strategic partner," and said that North Macedonia "has no other option, as is true of other West Balkan countries, beyond a future in the European Union." He expressed his appreciation that his country is now a NATO member, and that the Hellenic Air Force patrolled its air space. At an event a month ago celebrating the one-year anniversary of North Macedonia's membership in NATO, the overflights "were very well received by our citizens," Zaev said.
"Today we must reach an agreement as to how our borders will open for tourism to Greece" in terms of coronavirus pandemic measures, Zaev said, and citizens of his country were looking forward to "crossing the borders and coming to Thessaloniki for coffee and food."
The visiting prime minister then reviewed ongoing project agreements being developed between the two countries. North Macedonia is "in the final stages of contacts with Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE) for the operation of the oil pipeline," he said, while the hope is that a final agreement is signed by the end of May so that the pipeline may begin operations. ELPE will also have the opportunity to supply oil to Serbia, Kosovo, and the wider region.
In terms of investing in Greece, North Macedonia is planning to sign a memorandum with the Kopelouzos Group, he noted, "our first investment in Greece, for energy projects in Alexandroupolis." Addressing Mitsotakis, Zaev said "I know that you are encouraging a wider participatiion in this regional project, as it benefits all. Our share will be 10% of the terminal gas station and 25% of the produciton unit. This 25% corresponds to 1/4 (a quarter) of our total energy production, something very important to us."
Referring to lignite-based electricity production, North Macedonia's premier said, "Following the example of EU countries, we too shall shut down our coal-based energy production units the soonest possible, as their cost is high. We are also at the final stage of negotiations with Mytilineos Group for the gas-based production unit in Skopje, our capital. Greece's Public Power Corporation is one of the basic partners in this large-scale project, budgeted at 700 million euros – a hydroelectric energy project that will become a reference point in the energy mix of the wider region."
Additionally, another large business will participate in the bid to construct a railroad connection on the road and rail Pan-European Corridor VIII, Zaev said, a European axis that will link Italy, Albania, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey. "This is positive for entrepreneurship in the wider area, it is the largest project, and there are opportunities for several investments," Prime Minister Zaev told Mitsotakis.