Monday

26th Aug 2019

Tear gas bodes ill for Macedonia name deal

  • Police clashed with protesters on both sides of the border near Sunday's signing ceremony (Photo: Tilemahos Efthimiadis)

Police fired tear gas at protesters in Greece and Macedonia over the weekend, as diplomats signed a name deal to unlock EU enlargement.

Fourteen people, including seven policemen, were hurt in scuffles in Pisoderi, in northern Greece, on Sunday (17 June), where 3,000 people came out to denounce the accord.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Mogherini 'expected' EU to open talks with Macedonia in two weeks (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Police also clashed with some 300 protesters in Bitola, southern Macedonia, the same day.

The unrest coincided with a meeting of Greek and Macedonian leaders on the nearby shores of Lake Prespes in Greece to sign a deal to end the old deadlock over Macedonia's name, opening the door to its future EU and Nato membership.

The clashes followed similar scenes in Athens on Saturday, when 5,000 people rallied outside parliament after Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras won a confidence vote over the affair.

The crowds were much smaller than before, when hundreds of thousands of Greeks protested in February.

But the level of venom highlighted the challenges that the name deal still faced to enter into life.

Greek opponents denounced Tsipras' "fascist regime" and "anti-Hellenic agreement". "Traitors! Traitors!", people chanted.

Macedonian protesters, whipped up by the nationalist VMRO-DPME and United Macedonia parties, raged against "Soros-funded Zaev's Junta police forces", referring to a Jewish philanthropist, George Soros, who is a bogeyman of European populism.

The deal must still be signed by Macedonia's president, ratified by parliament, and endorsed by a referendum, before being ratified by Greek MPs in a process that could take until October.

Macedonian president Gjorge Ivanov, from the VMRO-DPME, has said he will not sign.

His veto can be overruled by parliament, where Zaev holds a majority, but the PM will need a super-majority to alter Macedonia's constitution in line with the accord.

Tsipras could also face ratification problems, with his junior governing partner, the Independent Greeks party, and the centre-right New Democracy party, both against the deal.

"Today is a sad day for Greece", New Democracy said on Sunday.

It accused Tsipras of having "given orders" for "[police] to show unprecedented brutality" against people "who were demonstrating their patriotic sensibilities".

"It is opposed by the vast majority of Greeks," New Democracy said, amid a recent poll by the Proto Thema newspaper, which showed that 68 percent of Greeks did not like the agreement.

The deal says that the 'Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia' will change its name to 'Northern Macedonia' and amend its constitution to take out irredentist claims to a Greek region of the same name, angering VMRO-DPME types.

It also says Northern Macedonia's citizens will be able to call themselves 'Macedonians' and call their language 'Macedonian,' in what Greeks nationalists say is a fake claim to Greek heritage.

The breakthrough is to see Greece lift its long-standing veto on Macedonia's EU and Nato entry process.

EU leaders were likely to open accession talks with Skopje at a summit on 28 June, EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said at Lake Prespes on Sunday.

"I'd expect and hope that the European Council two weeks from now will take that decision," she said.

Nato leaders are also preparing to invite Macedonia to join the alliance at a summit in July.

Wider picture

The developments come amid heightened geopolitical tension with Russia, which stands accused of having tried to stage a coup in Montenegro to stop it from joining the Western bloc, amid other dirty tricks.

But the Kremlin has nothing against Macedonia's EU entry, Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told the Greek government in Athens on Friday.

"Aspirations of Balkan countries to join the EU have never been an issue for us," he said.

He added, in a dig at Nato, that "Russia - contrary to certain Western powers - does not aspire to any exclusive rights there, does not dictate a development vector to Balkan countries, does not impose friends or enemies on them."

Amid the turmoil, the Greek and Macedonian leaders paid tribute to diplomacy for having solved one of the region's most stubborn problems.

"It's our historic responsibility to ensure that this step we are making isn't left up in the air," Tsipras said, after the two countries' foreign ministers signed a provisional text.

"We moved mountains," Zaev said.

"Today's my birthday. I told my family this year I don't need any [other] gifts," Matthew Nimetz, a 79-year old UN diplomat, who helped to negotiate the deal, said.

Devil in detail of Macedonia name talks

Unlocking Macedonia talks could be this year's big breakthrough in EU enlargement, but the devil's in the detail of Macedonia's constitution, as Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev and Greek PM Alexis Tsipras meet in Sofia.

EU delays Macedonia and Albania talks

Accession talks to start in 2019, not this year as hoped, after France, Denmark and Netherlands force delay despite breakthrough on Macedonia name dispute.

Analysis

Greece facing post-bailout challenges

Creditors are expected to agree Thursday on a final loan and debt relief measures for Greece. After eight years on an international lifeline, the country will remain under close surveillance - but will have to find a new economic model.

News in Brief

  1. Ocean Viking to disembark in Malta after ordeal
  2. Germany joins France in world outcry on Brazil fires
  3. British people lose faith in Brexit deal
  4. Brexit hardliners want further changes to EU deal
  5. German manufacturers confirm fear of recession
  6. Belgian socialists and liberals scrap over EU post
  7. Fall in EU migration leading to UK skills shortages
  8. Switzerland makes post-Brexit flight preparations

Opinion

EU report recognises Albania's achievements

Albania currently faces a serious crisis, which it would be foolish for all actors in the international community to ignore. Yet we must ask that our partners in Europe read Federica Mogherini's report carefully and recognise accomplishments.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Spain heading for yet another general election
  2. EU to discuss Brazil beef ban over Amazon fires
  3. 'Our house is burning,' Macron says on Amazon fires
  4. What happens when trafficking survivors get home
  5. EU states and Russia clash on truth of WW2 pact
  6. EU considers new rules on facial recognition
  7. EU to pledge Africa security funds at G7 summit
  8. Letter from the EESC on per diem article

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us