The creation of an informal “Friends of Macedonia” group in the European Parliament has triggered strong reactions among Greek MEPs, who said that the EU’s door was closed for Skopje.
Although Macedonia is recognised as the country’s constitutional name by most EU countries, the name dispute with Greece has blocked the country’s membership of both the EU and NATO [See background].
The Informal Friendship group in the European Parliament – “Friends of Macedonia” was formed for the first time during the previous mandate of the European Parliament, 2009-2014.
The group is composed of MEPs from various political groups who are supporters of the European integration path of the Balkan country. Its goal is to increase the country’s visibility within the European Parliament.
Marijana Petir, a Croatian MEP from the European People’s Party, took the initiative to revive the informal group, a move strongly opposed by her Greek colleagues in the EU Parliament.
Macedonia ready for the EU
Petir told EurActiv that the EU “must officially open accession negotiations with Macedonia” as the country was ready to do so.
“I strongly believe that this will occur soon,” she stressed, adding that all the reports so far have indicated that Skopje is making continuous progress.
Referring to the name dispute with Athens, she noted that it should be solved “in parallel with the harmonisation of Macedonian legislation to the EU”.
“I invite MEP colleagues from Greece to join us in the constructive debate, which would contribute to Macedonian’s future in the EU,” the Croatian MEP noted.
EU’s door closed
The vast majority of Greek MEPs reacted to Petir’s initiative and sent letters of complaint to the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz.
Surprisingly, they decided not to send a joint letter but separate ones.
The centre-right New Democracy MEPs said that such moves, even with “the cloak of the informal”, only created a false impression.
“Europe’s door will remain closed for Skopje, because it does not accept [EU’s] principles and values […] it continues to show a huge democratic deficit, and setbacks in the area of human rights protection,” the centre-right MEPs wrote in their letter, which was also sent to the chairman of their group in the Parliament, Manfred Weber (EPP).
The leftist Syriza MEPs blamed Petir for undermining the on-going negotiations on the name dispute within the UN framework, as well as recent efforts to ensure mutual confidence-building measures, proposed by Greece.
“This action violates the decisions of the European Union and of the United Nations on the official name of this country as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), as originally decided by the UN Security Council in April 1993,” Syriza MEPs said.
Croatia and Macedonia were both a part part of Yugoslavia until the country broke up, following fratricidal wars between 1991 and 2001.
Macedonia declared independence from the dissolving Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991.
The country is an ethnic mosaic. Slavic Macedonians represent the largest group (64% of the population). Ethnic Albanians are the biggest minority (25%), with Turks (3%) and Roma (1.9%) also present. The government of Macedonia however says the majority of the population are not Slavs, but descendants from Alexander the Great.
Of all the hurdles standing in the way of Macedonia's EU accession, the so-called 'name dispute' with Greece appears to be the biggest.
Seen from Athens, the official name used by Skopje – the Republic of Macedonia – is an open challenge to the Greek region of Macedonia. In reprisal, Greece vowed to veto Macedonia's participation in international organisations, including the EU, until the issue is resolved.
Although Macedonia is recognised as the country's constitutional name by most EU countries, the name dispute with Greece has led to an impasse for the country's membership of both the EU and Nato. UK, Poland, Romania and 13 other EU countries call the country Macedonia, while France, Germany, Spain and nine other EU members call it “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom).
Greece also believes that Skopje is misappropriating large chunks of its ancient history. The airport in Skopje was named after Alexander the Great, who is seen by Greece as a hero of its ancient history. Recently, Skopje angered Athens by erecting a giant statue of a ‘warrior on horseback’ resembling Alexander the Great.
- 26 January 2016: The informal group due to be relaunched
- Syriza: Statement by SYRIZA MEPs on the effort to create an unofficial group at the European Parliament called: "Friends of Macedonia" [In English]
- New Democracy: Statement of New Democracy in the European Parliament [In Greek]