Answering questions in Skopje on Thursday at a joint press conference with Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Erdoğan said the country is likely to enter the EU before Turkey since its accession process is proceeding quickly.
Turkey's prime minister said he sees Macedonia as an important actor for maintaining peace, stability and prosperity in the Balkans. Erdoğan said Turkey hoped Macedonia would become a NATO member as soon as possible.
Erdoğan was critical of the Greek government's attitude, which has been blocking the country's NATO membership over a name dispute. Greece does not allow Macedonia to be called the Republic of Macedonia because of its own region of Macedonia. Greece claims that Macedonia, if it keeps the name, might territorially claim the Greek northern province of Macedonia.
“Turkey has always supported Macedonia, particularly its bid to integrate into Euro-Atlantic institutions, since it gained its independence, and will continue to do so,” Erdoğan told a press conference before he left Ankara for Macedonia.
Turkey, a NATO member which became one of the first countries to recognize Macedonia by its constitutional name, is a staunch supporter of Skopje becoming a member of NATO. Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia with little bloodshed in 1991.
Erdoğan, who is visiting Macedonia from Sept. 29-30 as a guest of PM Gruevski, said Turkey and Macedonia shared a common history and culture for almost six centuries. The prime minister will meet with ethnic Turks living in Macedonia and listen to their expectations and demands.
“Besides our political relations, I will have the opportunity to debate economic, commercial, cultural, educational, defense and security issues during my visit, and seek ways to boost our relations and cooperation,” he said.
Erdoğan is going to visit several cities in Macedonia as his visit coincides with the 20th anniversary of Macedonia's independence and the 10th anniversary of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, the peace deal signed by the government of the Republic of Macedonia and ethnic Albanian representatives on Aug. 13, 2001. The agreement ended an armed conflict between the National Liberation Army and the Macedonian security forces, and set the groundwork for improving the rights of ethnic Albanians.
The agreement also included provisions for altering the official languages of the country, with any language spoken by over 20 percent of the population becoming co-official with the Macedonian language on a municipal level. Currently, only Albanian with an approximate 25 percent of the population fulfils this criterion.
Upon arrival to Macedonia, Erdoğan visited Skopje Alexander the Great Airport, constructed by the Turkish firm TAV Construction, together with his Macedonian counterpart. Erdoğan is accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ and Education Minister Ömer Dinçer.
Meanwhile, İstanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş is in Skopje, a sister city of İstanbul, to meet with his counterpart, Trifun Kostovski. Erdoğan and Topbaş will attend a graduation ceremony at the International Balkan University on Friday.