Thursday

20th Feb 2020

Macedonia name dispute 'holds hostage' EU credibility

Macedonia is ready to start accession talks with the EU and the fact that a 17-year-old dispute with Greece over its name is hindering the process harms not just Skopje, but the EU's credibility as well, Macedonian foreign minister Antonio Milososki has said.

This name issue has been "misused by one EU member country," and this fact is "to a certain extent taking hostage the credibility of the EU" when it comes to establishing and promoting objective membership criteria, Mr Milososki told EUobserver in an interview.

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  • Alexander of Macedon - often finds himself dragged into the name dispute (Photo: Wikipedia)

Macedonia has been an EU candidate since 2005, but has not yet opened membership negotiations with the 27-nation bloc.

It had hoped to do so this year, but a European Commission progress report released in November did not recommend to EU member states to launch the process, citing deficiencies in a number of areas, and highlighting violent incidents that took place during this summer's elections in Macedonia.

Skopje believes there is another reason behind Brussels' decision, however.

"I am not convinced that's the only reason why Macedonia was not given a chance to open accession negotiations. Maybe there is something that is beyond the reports," Mr Milososki said, referring to the dispute with Greece over Macedonia's name - an issue which he said is making his "small country disproportionately more famous worldwide than [its] size."

Greece has been refusing to recognise its neighbour's constitutional name - Republic of Macedonia - since it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, as a northern region in Greece is also called Macedonia and Athens fears allowing Skopje to use the name will open the way to territorial claims. It also believes the appellation is part of its own historical heritage.

The dispute has been going on for more than 17 years. Meanwhile, the international community has been using Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) as a "provisional" term designating the country since 1993.

Separately, Macedonia's name has been recognised by some 120 other countries worldwide, including Russia, the US, China, Canada, Turkey, as well as a number of EU states.

'It's the name,' says France

Earlier this year, the deadlock over Macedonia's name caused Greece to block a NATO invitation to Skopje, and Athens has indicated that its neighbour's EU integration would also be slowed down as long as the issue is not solved.

On Monday (8 December), current EU president France said that the unsolved name dispute was clearly Macedonia's biggest problem at the moment as far as its EU accession process is concerned.

"The problem of Macedonia, it's the name," French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner told journalists after a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels.

"Frankly, you can ask me about visas and about progress [towards the EU], as long as the name issue is not solved, you are knocking on the wrong door. This problem must be solved," he added.

After all these years of UN-mediated negotiations between Greece and Macedonia, the situation seems today "very very complicated for such a simple problem," the French minister concluded.

For his part, Mr Milososki stressed the EU should help to tone down the issue and not to let it become a criterion for his country to join the EU.

"We would like this issue to retain its bilateral dimension and not to be Europeanised, because it's not a dispute with the EU, it's a dispute with Greece," Macedonia's top diplomat said.

'Merit-based' approach

Mr Milososki also stressed that despite the reforms his country still has to make in a number of areas, it is already prepared to start EU membership talks.

"We are aware we are not perfect, but …Macedonia is not less prepared than some other countries - already negotiating or already members of the EU - to open accession negotiations," he said.

"[On a] merit-based approach, Macedonia should be considered as soon as possible as the next country opening accession negotiations," the minister added.

Skopje is also hoping to obtain visa free travel to the EU as early as next year.

For its part, Brussels noted that Macedonia had made "good progress" on the visa arrangements and is expected to deliver its assessment on the country's readiness for visa liberalisation in the "first quarter of 2009."

EU hopes Greek-Macedonian name dispute could end soon

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn on Thursday expressed hopes that the 17-year-old 'name row' between Greece and Macedonia could be reaching its final stage. A new round of UN-monitored negotiations on the issue is to take place next week.

Athens and Skopje in UN court over name dispute

Athens on Tuesday strongly criticised Skopje's decision to file a complaint against Greece in the International Court of Justice, and said Macedonia would "remain outside the international organisations it wants to join" during the judicial process. Skopje is accusing Athens of violating the terms of a 1995 UN agreement between them.

MEPs urge EU to decide on Macedonia accession talks

MEPs have called on member states to set a date for opening accession talks with EU candidate Macedonia this year while the Czech EU presidency has warned that "time is running out" for Croatia to conclude its own membership talks by the end of 2009 as planned.

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