22nd Aug 2019

Mounting pressure to end Macedonian negotiations with Greece

  • The name dispute has stalled Macedonia's EU bid (Photo: Zlatevska DNEVNIK)

Macedonia is to break off negotiations with Greece if its national identity continues to be disrespected, media close to the government in Skopje have reported.

The reports echo public anger over the disappearance of the term 'Macedonian' from the European Commission's latest assessment of the Balkan country's progress towards EU integration.

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

There was no official confirmation of the end of negotiations but members of the ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) said that the idea was being considered.

Last week, Macedonia noticed that the latest progress report by the European Commission no longer uses the term 'Macedonian'. Instead of mentioning a 'Macedonian language' it refers to a "state language".

This prompted outrage throughout the country. President Gjorgje Ivanov summoned the EU ambassador in Macedonia for an explanation. During a parliamentary debate on the progress report, EU ambassador Erwan Fouere apologised for the use of the term "state language", qualifying it as "a misunderstanding".

There was no change in the commission's policy, which follows recommendations by the United Nations (UN), Mr Fouere said.

"If you ask me what the official language of the country is, I'd say: Macedonian. The EU is not involved in changing the identity of people. Identity is something sacred and it should not be negotiable," Mr Fouere said.

The adjective 'Macedonian' has turned into a particularly difficult stumbling block in Skopje's name dispute with its southern neighbour. Greece is blocking Macedonia's entry into both the EU and Nato by asking it to change its name.

Greece's northern province is called Macedonia and some Greeks from this region identify themselves as 'Macedonian'. Athens would like to make a clear distinction between the names of the Greek region and the independent country.

The dispute has continued since 1995, when both countries signed an interim agreement under UN auspices to search for a permanent solution to the name issue. The agreement stipulates that Macedonia will be referred to as the 'Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia', or FYROM, until a definitive name is found.

So far this has not happened. Skopje would agree to compromise on the name itself but insists on guarantees that its people and language can continue to use the term 'Macedonian'.

Athens insists that a geographical modifier should be erga omnes – used by the whole world including international organisations. Skopje has refused the latter because so far over 120 countries have recognised Macedonia under its constitutional name 'Republic of Macedonia'.

Following Mr Fouere's remark, Macedonian media discovered that the UN has also stopped mentioning a Macedonian language. This prompted reports about an imminent break-up of the talks with Greece unless the term 'Macedonian' is at least re-introduced into official UN terminology.

The foreign ministry in Skopje sent a note to the cabinet of the UN Secretary General demanding that the name of the language be re-introduced.

In the meantime, the Social Democrat opposition has criticised the government's policy, recalling that the term 'Macedonian' had already disappeared from the commission's reports back in 2006 when the conservative VMRO-DPMNE came to power. The opposition said that the government had engaged in unwarranted provocation of Greece by renaming Skopje airport after 'Alexander the Great', the emperor considered by Greece to be a key figure of its historical heritage.

They called on VMRO-DPMNE to solve the name dispute without losing the identity issue. "If they don't know how to do that, than they should resign," said Ljubomir Frckovski, a former Social Democrat presidential candidate.

In the meantime, the protests continue. One partner of the ruling coalition announced a petition to the UN, and activists have declared themselves ready to start a hunger strike. Blogs and social networks are full of negative reactions urging the government to stop negotiating with Greece. The Macedonian Writers Association has launched an appeal for the protection of the Macedonian language and identity.

Open Arms may face fine in Spain 

Open Arms may face a fine of up to €901,000 for doing "search and rescue" without authorisation, but rescuing people who are shipwrecked is a legal duty, the NGO says.

Belgium's EU commission hopeful in free press row

Didier Reynders, Belgium's EU commissioner hopeful and foreign minister backed bill that could sentence whistle-blowers to five years in prison and fine journalists up to €5,000.


The EU committee's great 'per diem' charade

Around 30 members of European Economic Social Committee, who live and work primarily in Brussels or nearby, have claimed €1.47m in a 'daily subsistence' allowance from European taxpayers to cover accommodation, food and local transport for meetings held in Brussels.

EU ends silence on Hong Kong protests

The EU, in league with Canada, has spoken out on the Hong Kong protests after months of silence in what one expert called "a clear expression of support for the protesters".


Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings

The German former secretary-general of the European Commission held some 21 meetings which were registered in the lobby register. But no documents appeared to exist summarising what was said.

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. Open Arms may face fine in Spain 
  2. Belgium's EU commission hopeful in free press row
  3. Conte turns on Salvini, as Italy prepares for change
  4. Nordic-German climate action signals broader alliance
  5. The EU committee's great 'per diem' charade
  6. Spain calls for legal action against Italy on migrants
  7. Trump to meet Greenland leader in Denmark
  8. Irish border plan is 'anti-democratic', Johnson tells EU

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