Macedonia, NATO and the EU – precedent, paradox and pronunciation

Macedonia’s future Euro-Atlantic prospects depend heavily on resolving the challenges that arise from the precedent, paradox and pronunciation of the name dispute with Greece.

By Kire Babanoski

“It is no longer a question of vain words but of a bold act, a constructive act”.

Robert Schuman, May 9, 1950

Since the independence of Macedonia and the abandonment of the socialist system of self-government, it citizens have by-and-large opted to follow a path towards the EU and NATO. Through numerous meetings, agreements, negotiations and reforms, Macedonia has worked to harmonize its legislation and meet the criteria set, all in order to become a part of the European family.

Successful completion of such work has been awarded on several occasions. At the NATO summit in April 1999 in Washington, Macedonia became a candidate for membership of NATO; whilst on December 17th, 2005, the European Council granted candidate status to Macedonia. Both steps prompted great euphoria amongst its citizens; an emotion again felt when Macedonia secured visa liberalization on December 19th, 2009, allowing its citizens to travel freely to the countries of the Schengen zone. The European Commission then recommended that a date be set for the commencement of EU accession negotiations with Macedonia.

Three years on, the EU Council has yet to set a date for negotiations to begin; despite all conditions and requirements – criteria previously set at various EU summits – being fulfilled. As usual, the reason stated was the unresolved neighbourly relations problem with Greece over the name Macedonia. As with the April 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest – where Macedonia was refused an invitation to join NATO, despite meeting all the conditions set – a Greek blockade persists; as a precedent, paradox, pronunciation or something else?

Its precedent lies in the fact that in the entire history of these respective Euro-Atlantic organizations, individual member states of the European Union and NATO have never imposed a separate condition for the admission of a new member state. This is the first such instance of a member state blocking a neighbour from joining either body because of a bilateral problem – namely, disagreement over the name of the country, which by the will of both sides can be resolved later.

The dispute over the name of Macedonia is conducted under the auspices of the UN Secretary General, through an intermediary who is directly appointed by him. Though Macedonia was admitted into the UN in 1993 – and that process is complete – negotiations to bridge differences over its name, however, are still ongoing. Negotiations are indefinite, although the name of the document that leads the process is called Interim Agreement – Interim Accord.

Why, therefore, is this dispute run in the EU and NATO as well, when it is already ongoing in the UN? Furthermore, why is it an issue for these respective organizations if in the Interim Accord it is stated that, “the Party of the First Part agrees not to object to the application by or the membership of the Party of the Second Part in international, multilateral and regional organizations and institutions of which the Party of the First Part is a member”. The paradox of the blockade is therefore clear.

Perhaps the European Union and NATO still do not believe that Macedonia has met all the criteria set. Perhaps the EU and NATO were not ready – in part because of recent financial traumatic events – for new enlargements, so they used the name issue as an additional criterion. Pronunciation is therefore decisive.

Whichever applies best – precedent, paradox or pronunciation – the case of Macedonia and its entry into the EU and NATO is one of the most profound challenges facing the country. Will Greece permit membership, and will the Macedonian government make sufficient concessions? Will the Macedonian people in a referendum vote against the name change on behalf of Euro-Atlantic integration? Macedonia’s future Euro-Atlantic prospects depend heavily on resolving the challenges arising from the name dispute with Greece; challenges that international insistence and regional goodwill can help overcome.

Kire Babanoski is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of security in Skopje, University ‘St. Clement of Ohrid’ Bitola.

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