“It takes two to tango”: Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle comments on Macedonia’s accession talks and name dispute with Greece

, by Johannes Langer

“It takes two to tango”: Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle comments on Macedonia's accession talks and name dispute with Greece
Macedonia and Europe

The European Commission and the European Parliament are in favour of negotiation talks with Macedonia. There are a number of issues at stake, which will be difficult to solve. If the dispute over a name with Greece coupled with the nationalistic tendencies can be overcome, the small republic may soon be ready to join the EU.

“I am glad to see there is strong consensus between the European Parliament and the EU Commission that accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia should start,” said Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle on his first day in office, during the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. According to the new Commissioner, the accession talks could finally begin as soon as the long-standing name related dispute between Macedonia and Greece is solved.

A humiliating name

So far, both Macedonian and Greek officials have not come closer to a result. Since 1995, Macedonia has beard a humiliating name. The country is called „The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia“(hereafter FYROM) as the international community does not recognize the constitutional name of the „Republic of Macedonia“ by and large. The reason for this rejection of recognition is that the Greek insist that the name Macedonia should be reserved for a northern Greek region. Moreover, Athens fears that the Macedonian constitution would claim Greek territory when the the two names are legitimately matching. This struggle has huge consequences for the former Yugoslav republic. Greece blocked the entry of FYROM to the EU as well as NATO, which raised nationalistic sentiments in Skopje. UN mediator Matthew Nimetz, an American diplomat, suggested different possible alternative terms to FYROM, of which the Republic of North Macedonia currently seems to be the most realistic one.

Since 1995, Macedonia has beard a humiliating name. The country is called „The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia“(hereafter FYROM) as the international community does not recognize the constitutional name of the „Republic of Macedonia“ by and large.

The European Commission supported accession talks with FYROM in October 2009, hence Macedonia had good reason to hope that EU leaders would set a date for the start of the negotiations - but was ultimately disappointed. As the stalemate with Greece continued, the European Council deferred a decision on opening membership talks with Macedonia on the 8th December 2009. As a consequence, Macedonia still has to wait to start accession talks with the EU, despite the fact that it received the status of a candidate country four years ago.

Nationalistic tendencies

There are yet more issues Macedonia still has to overcome in addition to the name dispute. Among the main problems for the EU are the fights against corruption, proper implementation of laws, gender inequality and the lack of full implementations of minority rights in the small republic with a population of 2.5 million people. A recent example can be seen in the vision of Skopje 2014, which provoked negative reactions. According to the plans, the Macedonian capital should build a great number of historical monuments until 2014, among them a grand statue of Alexander the Great and an Orthodox church - both situated in the main city square of the capital. Not surprisingly, the plans have provoked negative reactions from the Muslim community in Skopje, mainly from ethnic Albanians, as well as criticism from Greece. Instead of finding a compromise, the city square is currently being dug up by heavy machinery in preparation for the buildings.

Among the main problems for the EU are the fights against corruption, proper implementation of laws, gender inequality and the lack of full implementations of minority rights in the small republic with a population of 2.5 million people.

Another issue raising negative attention was the recently published „Macedonian Encyclopaedia“, launched by the Macedonian Academy of Science and Art The Encyclopedia triggered furious reactions from EU members Greece and Bulgaria, as well as from neighbouring Kosovo and Albania. Even the UK and the US criticised the historic interpretations of the encyclopaedia, as the Albanian minority, making up a quarter of the population, was denounced as shiptari or planinci, which has derogatory connotations. According to EurActiv, strong pressure from the US and the UK led Macedonia to remove the controversial encyclopaedia from the shelves.

Rising hopes

The government in Skopje has nonetheless continued their reform policy, which was endorsed by the European Commission. “2009 was a good year”, said Enlargement Commissioner Füle and pointed to improvements in the fight against corruption, a law of regulating party finance and the de-politicisation of the police. Importantly, Macedonia was able to finally fix the boarders with Kosovo in an internationally binding treaty. This decision will help to further improve the stability inside the republic. The progress made by FYROM in 2009 also led to the introduction of the new EU visa-free travel regime for Macedonian citizens, put in place on the19th December 2009.

The Greek “Agenda 2014” however, raises hopes. The Greek and Austrian foreign ministers presented in a joint initiative their vision that until the year 2014, the Western Balkans should be integrated in the EU. The alternate Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas is aware that 2014 is an ambitious target, but also points to the significance of the date - 100 years after the outbreak of World War I in the Western Balkans. It is a positive sign to Skopje that the new government in Athens indicated an interest in a fast accession of Macedonia to the EU, both prime ministers have recognized respectively their will to overcome the name dispute. All parties involved see momentum for a solution of a squabble that certainly does not fit to an integrated Europe of the 21st century.

“It takes two to tango,” hinted Commissioner Füle in February to Greece and Macedonia. Hopefully, both countries are ready to ask for a dance. Only a compromise on a mutual basis will bring success – the winners are clearly the citizens of Macedonia.

“It takes two to tango,” hinted Commissioner Füle in February to Greece and Macedonia. Hopefully, both countries are ready to ask for a dance. Only a compromise on a mutual basis will bring success – the winners are clearly the citizens of Macedonia. As soon as Athens gives the nod, Macedonia, however it may be called, might be a surprisingly quick case for EU accession and according to the EU Observer, will be “flying through the negotiating chapters”. Nationalistic tendencies, in particular of Slavic Macedonians have yet to be overcome, but EU integration might pull the rug from under nationalists feet.

Johannes Langer is a member of JEF Austria and a student of political science as well as history at the University of Vienna.

Image: Macedonia and Europe, source: Sofiaecho.com

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  • On 2 April 2010 at 17:34, by Kiro Velkovski Replying to: “It takes two to tango”: Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle comments on Macedonia’s accession talks and name dispute with Greece

    Ridiculous assertions. Too much to handle.

    Regards, Kiro Velkovski Macedonia

  • On 3 April 2010 at 16:40, by Laurent Nicolas Replying to: “It takes two to tango”: Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle comments on Macedonia’s accession talks and name dispute with Greece

    Maybe you could launch a debate by developing your point of view ?

  • On 3 April 2010 at 21:57, by Kiro Velkovski Replying to: “It takes two to tango”: Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle comments on Macedonia’s accession talks and name dispute with Greece

    It`s harder than you think. Author of the text by not checking relevant sources, committed deliberate (or not) attempt to just rationalize his feelings or ideas about the subject at hand. So, I will start and try to go some lengths, and I kindly ask others to join me. Please separate facts and opinions.

    “Since 1995, Macedonia has beard a humiliating name.”
    - Macedonia does not bear any humiliating name. The right to name a country is on their citizens. It is not on EU, UN, any other country. Let’s check the Ireland/UK situation. UK does not like the Ireland name as it is not show that there’s one part of the island of Ireland under UK rule. Therefore, they choose not to call it simple Ireland, but Republic of Ireland (ROI as short name). So, as its own citizens are not a bunch of nuts to choose a humiliating name for its own country, Macedonia is quite happy with its own name.

    “The country is called „The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia“(hereafter FYROM) as the international community does not recognize the constitutional name of the „Republic of Macedonia“ by and large.”
    - Since 1992, Macedonia is member of the UN under its constitutional name, BUT, UN refuses to use it - it provisionally refers to my country as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” for all purposes within United Nations. Macedonia was bullied into talks about its name with its southern neighbor without mention about the time frame or the possible outcome. When talks end, UN will revert to the constitutional name (UN cannot name a country, it is out of its authority - if they had the authority, they would probably used it so far). If Macedonia changes its constitutional name (HIGHLY UNLIKELY) then it will be used in the UN (as for every other country in the world). BTW, the so-called acronym is not in use in UN, too, but only the full provisional reference. About the international community, usually the multilateral organizations (under Greek bullying) use the provisional reference. But, e.g. in NATO, every mention of “the former ...” is accompanied by a footnote stating the Turkey recognizes Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name. Also, more than half of NATO and EU countries recognize Macedonia as such. All the UN Security Council permanent members do. For a total of 130 countries of the world with 95% of the world population.

    “The reason for this rejection of recognition is that the Greek insist that the name Macedonia should be reserved for a northern Greek region. Moreover, Athens fears that the Macedonian constitution would claim Greek territory when the the two names are legitimately matching.”
    - There are hundreds of examples of names of countries. United States of (North) America claims whole America? Or California claims bordering Mexican California? Is Great Britain in fact Grand Bretagne??? There are lots of examples, but, I have to make it simple and short - Greek Macedonia is a province, not a country (leave behind the fact that it is named in 1989 as such) so there is no legal confusion between those. Similarly about ethnicity - we are ethnic Macedonians, they can be whatever they want, including, South Macedonians of Greek origin, Greek Macedonians, Hellenic Macedonians, whatever they want. Also, our nationality is Macedonian and the language is Macedonian. It has nothing to do with ancient or medieval Macedonians or language. We are sticking to the facts in term of law and human rights. I would like to discuss history and stuff, but let’s leave it for some other time - history is NEVER about facts, but about the interpretation of the facts.

    “This struggle has huge consequences for the former Yugoslav republic. Greece blocked the entry of FYROM to the EU as well as NATO, which raised nationalistic sentiments in Skopje.”
    - Let’s try to quantify this. We are in HUGE crisis and we need help of EU and IMF?!? Nope, we are not. It’s our southern neigbour. Macedonia is taking part in every NATO mission. Macedonia signed Stabilization and Association agreement with EU and is in almost economic union with EU. Do we need more? Yes. Can we live with this? Yes. Regarding nationalistic sentiment, yes, the pressure from south helps, but I don’t think it is so bad... It is not chauvinistic, but national romantic as expression of Macedonian nationality was suppressed in old Yugoslavia. Call it national revival.

    “UN mediator Matthew Nimetz, an American diplomat, suggested different possible alternative terms to FYROM, of which the Republic of North Macedonia currently seems to be the most realistic one.”
    - You should check our sources. Northern Macedonia is good for Athens only. In 1991 there were one million protesters in Solun protesting our independence. In 1992, we were not recognized by EU even that Badenter Commission on former Yugoslavia okayed it for Slovenia and Macedonia. Greece and Germany traded and Croatia was recognized, and EU later even declared that will never recognize a country with Macedonia in its name! 19 years later, we are with one leg in EU and NATO, USA, UK, Ireland, and 127 other countries recognize us, we loaned our country to attack Serbia and, now, Mr. Droutsas acknowledges the fact that we cover 38% of the region of Macedonia, and they cover 51% and that Northern Macedonia will be a nice name for them... We have a possibility to change our name to Republic of 38% of Macedonia? Or Macedonia v2.0? Because HE wants it? No, we’ll wait for the final step - to drop the Northern from their wish list, and call us Republic of Macedonia (RoM for them, as Brits call RoI).

    Further on, not to waste next week on commenting, I will continue to note the factual mistakes as short as possible:

    - Some countries were candidates for decades. Yes, Macedonia got postponed, but has to get the date in Spanish presidency (until 31.06.2010). That’s a fact.
    - Corruption - yes. Like some other EU countries. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Laws are properly implemented - the courts are not functioning properly. Gender inequality is EU-wide problem, as minority equality. Do you know that for all the laws that are about some minority, that minority has to vote for that law? It’s called Badenter majority and it is in force throughout the country in which we have Albanian as second official language on whole territory, and Serbian, Turkish, Roma language on some parts of the territory. Check reports about Greece though. UN, US, EC has huge troubles with treatment of Macedonian minority in Greece...
    - Negative reactions? Yes. But, 65% are for the plan. Why should we ask for a compromise about a church and statue? There’s Phillip II statue in Plovdiv recently erected - did Bulgaria asked for compromise? Any other example where one country asks the other if a monument should be built? Remind you - Macedonia has 38% of region territory, can we build only 38% of the monument?
    - Encyclopedia was not even published. But I have it, if you need it. We’ll see what the changes will be. IMHO, the reactions were strongly exaggerated.
    - Agenda 2014 does not apply to Macedonia. If the price for full EU integration is the name, we are not paying. Therefore, any conditioning of the accession by change of the name is simple blackmail. Why should not Athens ask Ljubljana and follow Slovenian example - they resorted to simple bilateral talks and let Zagreb continue EU accession. That’s good neighborliness.
    - Are there any Slavic Czech? Germanic French? Anglican Welsh? Or something? There is not a single Slavic Macedonians. There are about 2,5 million self-declared Macedonians. If you want to go in language analysis, then we can speak about Slav group of languages (of which Macedonian is part). or Romance or Germanic...

    And completely my remark - compromise? Let’s try to illustrate - they took us 100 euros and now want to compromise by giving us half back?

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