28th Jan 2020

Macedonia name dispute threatens EU Balkan strategy, report says

The year-long disagreement between Athens and Skopje over Macedonia's official name is not only detrimental to the two neigbours' bilateral relations, it is also jeopardising European Union and NATO stability strategies for the western Balkans, according to a report published on Monday (12 January).

"The main NATO-EU strategy for stabilising Macedonia and the region via enlargement was derailed in 2008 by the dispute with Greece over the country's name," says the International Crisis Group (ICG) in a new paper.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Alexander the Great's ethnic origin is also part of the dispute between Greece and Macedonia. (Photo: EUobserver)

It explains that the EU membership perspective has been helping to unite Macedonia's two communities, the ethnic Macedonians and Albanians, especially since the end of the 2001 conflict between them.

But the recent escalation of the name dispute between Greece and Macedonia – which materialised in April last year when Athens blocked Skopje's NATO bid – "puts at risk the progress achieved," according to the ICG.

Greece has refused to recognise its neighbour's constitutional name - the 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.

Donald Steinberg, the NGO's deputy president warned: "This is more than a bilateral dispute between Skopje and Athens. It risks derailing the main strategy of both NATO and the EU for stabilising Macedonia and the region, based on enlargement and integration."

"By blocking NATO and EU integration, Greece appeared to contravene its undertaking in the 1995 Interim Accord between the two states not to let the name issue stand in the way of Macedonia's membership of international organisations," Sabine Freizer, ICG's Europe Programme director said.

"Pending agreement, Skopje should use its provisional name, 'the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia', in all multilateral forums, and Athens should drop its veto threats," she added.

Macedonia should not provoke Greece

But the NGO stresses that Macedonia too "should avoid provocations" – such as renaming the Skopje airport after Alexander the Great, or, more recently, renaming Macedonia's main highway after the historical figure, whose ethnic origin is also part of the thorny dispute between the two countries.

The ICG goes further, saying that "Skopje should publicly state its readiness to accept the latest proposal of the UN mediator that 'Republic of North Macedonia' be the name [of the country] for all international purposes."

In return, "Athens should respond by acknowledging the national identity and language of its northern neighbour as 'Macedonian'" – something Greece has consistently refused to do.

The role of the EU, as well as of NATO, in the process should not be underestimated either, and they "should actively encourage Athens to unblock Macedonia's integration into both organisations and to respond positively to Skopje's concessions on the country's name," the ICG report concludes.


Kosovo PM attacks 'mono-ethnic' EU justice

Letting Serb war crime suspects go free while pursuing Kosovar ones only is bad for Western Balkans reconciliation, Kosovo's outgoing prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, has said.

Finland: EU 'not brain dead' on enlargement

EU countries have given a mixed reaction to French proposals on enlargement reform, but ongoing talks did not mean the process had stalled, Finland said.


France unveils new model EU enlargement

Western Balkan countries should become EU members via a new, step-by-step process, France has said in a detailed proposal seen by EUobserver.

News in Brief

  1. Cases of coronavirus in France and Germany
  2. Report: EU court seeks authority on post-Brexit deal
  3. Slovenian PM resigns, calls snap election
  4. Merkel wants EU-Balkan talks agreement by March
  5. Germany: UN sanctions to enforce Libya ceasefire
  6. Irish PM: UK weaker than EU in trade talks
  7. Report warns of challenges under new EU telecom rules
  8. EU countries to evacuate citizens from virus-hit Wuhan in China


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. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. 'Brexit is not going to go away,' warns EU's Barnier
  2. Belgian spy services launch internal clear-up
  3. US and UK in war of words over Huwaei
  4. How Slovakia's far-right might pull off an election victory
  5. Trump's 'plan' for Israel will go against EU values
  6. Salvini down, but not out in Italy regional poll
  7. Brexit finally happens - the UK leaves the EU This WEEK
  8. Why is Netherlands so far behind on renewables?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us