EU-Macedonia relations


The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's bid to join the EU is currently blocked by a dispute with Athens over its name, which is identical to that of a Greek province.

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In official EU documents, Macedonia is referred to as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" due to a dispute over the country's name, which is identical to a Greek province.

Macedonia, its constitutional name for the sake of shortness, first appeared as a country at international level in 1991 after declaring independence from the dissolving Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Macedonia is a landlocked country bordered by Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Greece and Albania. Its territory is crossed by the Vardar River, which is of both economic and political relevance as some political players have proposed using the name Vardar Macedonia as a possible solution to the name dispute with Greece.

Macedonia is an ethnic mosaic. Slavic Macedonians represent the largest group (64% of the population). Ethnic Albanians are the second biggest minority (25%), with Turks (3%) and Roma (1.9%) also present.

Ever since the country's independence, integrating the ethnic Albanians has proved a cumbersome process, and the country has come close to civil war.

The August 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement, brokered by Western powers, halted the brinkmanship between the Kosovar-Albanian communities in northern Macedonia (organised militarily in the National Liberation Army) and Macedonian forces. The text sanctioned Albanian as an official language for Macedonia, triggered administrative decentralisation and required the inclusion of ethnic Albanians in the government, army and police.

Recently, Macedonia and Kosovo came to an agreement on a border dispute (EurActiv 19/10/09).

The country's ethnic diversity is reflected in the variety of its religions. Macedonia orthodoxy is practiced by 68% of the population and Islam by 29%, with most of the practitioners of the latter being of Albanian origin. Constitutionally, the church is separated from the state. The Constitutional Court reiterated this principle with a ruling banning religious teaching in public schools.

Meanwhile, the so-called 'name dispute' with Greece, which is blocking Macedonia's EU entry talks, can be traced back to the 1990s. The then European Economic Community accepted a 1992 recommendation from Robert Badinter, who headed the Arbitration Commission of the Peace Conference on the former Yugoslavia, regarding the recognition of FYROM as a sovereign state and acknowledging the name dispute.

In 1996, the country became eligible to receive European funding under the PHARE programme, the EU's main financial instrument to assist Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) during the run-up to the 2004 enlargement. As of 2001, CARDS replaced PHARE for the countries of the Western Balkans.

Since 2007, Macedonia has been receiving EU funds through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA). Between 2007 and 2012, Macedonia is expected to receive roughly 500 million euros through the IPA. Of this, 92.3m is earmarked for 2010.

Macedonia's Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), the central pillar of the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP), was signed on 9 April 2001 and entered into force in April 2004, immediately after Macedonia's application for membership in March 2004.

EU candidate status was granted in December 2005, under the UK EU presidency. Yet FYROM has not been able to open any negotiating chapters, with Greece vetoing over the start of talks due to the name issue.

The main development in recent years has been progress on visa liberalisation, with a fully-fledged visa liberalisation regime between the EU and Macedonia coming into force in December 2009. The decision also applies to Montenegro and Serbia (EurActiv 01/12/09).