Macedonia vs. Greece, and now also Bulgaria

The result of the last European Council in December 2012 has hardly been taken note of outside of the concerned countries, what concerns the Macedonia accession to the EU. The European Council has for the 4th time consecutively denied the opening of accession negotiation, against a clear recommendation by the EU Commission for the 4th time. This shows that the veto at least at this stage is a totally outdated instrument.

The European Council decision was due to the traditional veto by Greece because of the name of Macedonia, but there are some hints in the air that the name issue might be settled (or pre-settled) between Macedonia and Greece in the next months, by an exchange of notes or other diplomatic documents between the both, and the good services of a (US) special envoy acting on behalf of the United Nations. The unblocking of the name issue will also lift the Greek veto against Macedonia’s accession to NATO which has been blocked by Greece as well (and this against a decision of the International Court of Justice). However, Greece was not really in the position to develop policies during the last months, for elections, a difficult change of government, and urgent legislation reasons – this of course everyone has to understand.

But what was new for the December decision was a de-facto veto for the Macedonian EU negotiations by Bulgaria. This was hardly perceived among the EU citizens.

Not enough that Greece so far has failed to quote any legal or qualified political arguments regarding the name of Macedonia (and of course some Macedonians are taking their mouth a bit full, too, in the best Yugoslav way) which may soon be changed. Macedonia’s recognised name is the „Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)“. The country would prefer the simple name of „Macedonia“, however this is the name of a province in northern Greece. In Belgium there is also a province with the name „Luxembourg“. Maybe a compulsory „Republic of Macedonia“ might be possible?

But Bulgaria has argued – through its Prime Minister Boyko Borissov – that parts of „its history have been stolen“ by Macedonia and that Bulgaria has been badmouthed (see among many other sources: Background is an exchange of letters between the Presidents, started by Bulgaria, which can only be considered as stupid, and where Bulgaria has advocated to commit a holiday together with Macedonia. Nothing against this, but a common commitment can only be proposed for uncontested holidays.

Dear fellow Bulgarians, the European Union is not a nationalist event! And that your President qualified Macedonia „not ready for accession negotiations“ is clearly contradictory to the recommendations of the EU Commission which four times during the last four years has recommended to start negotiations with Macedonia. At first, had someone of the previous EU Member States said this, Bulgaria would not be a member of the EU27, and it cannot have to do with the perspective that the EU Commission may impose an extraordinary monitoring report on the Bulgarian judicial system, which however seems very justified.

Also Macedonia should of course refrain from setting up monuments which easily can be considered as nationalist. But one has fully to endorse EU Commissioner Stefan Füle (who is one of the pillars of the Commission) who said towards Sofia “… it is not good to leave our partners waiting before the door for too long. I believe that integration is the best means for coping with nationalism, and I am convinced that isolation boosts nationalism.” In this context, Macedonia merits indeed now a fast start of negotiations, though many negotiation chapters can be cleared in advance. Macedonia has a certain fragile structure, with a big Albanian minority, an armed internal conflict in 2001, a Roma population which is partly de facto discriminated, and above all a country which has no further grave problems whatsoever with its neighbouring countries. The country merits now a stringent further approximation towards the EU – but no unfriendly fire from Bulgaria, which by the way is not contested by many opposition politicians there.

Hans-Jürgen Zahorka
Chief Editor, European Union Foreign Affairs Journal

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