In an unprecedented move, Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle has warned Macedonia that the country could lose the recommendation to start accession negotiations which it received last year, if no progress is made on the path to reform and if the EU hopeful keeps on taking actions considered by Greece as "provocations".
The warning came in a TV interview given by Füle to Macedonian TV channel A1, one of the few media outlets with a critical voice and which the government is reportedly trying to silence.
Füle was asked to comment on the decision by Nikola Gruevski's government to erect a statue of a 'warrior on horseback' resembling Alexander the Great in the centre of Skopje, which has sparked fury in Greece. Over the weekend, the 12-meter high statue was finally assembled.
The commissioner said that not only in bilateral affairs, but also in normal life any person should avoid doing things seen by its neighbour as a provocation.
"Seriously, if you have a neighbour, and I'm not talking about two states now, and there is an issue between two of you, whatever the nature of that issue is, and you are trying sincerely to solve it, I guess you would avoid doing anything that your neighbour might call a provocation. This is simple logic. I would expect the government in Skopje to avoid doing things which would be called by the other side provocations," the commissioner said.
Füle said he was "not really" satisfied with the pace of reform in Macedonia. He added that if this trend were to persist under the new government formed following snap elections on 5 June, the Commission could reassess its recommendation to start accession negotiations, given in December 2005.
"Am I satisfied with the tempo of reform? Not really. As soon as the government is being formed, if we see clear steps toward renewing the reform tempo in your country, then I don't see any reason why we should change our recommendation. If we have a feeling that instead of progress there is a regress, if we have a feeling that instead of going forward you are going backwards, we would probably have to reassess that recommendation to start accession negotiations," Füle said.
The commissioner said he saw no need for such a move at present, but again insisted that the reform process must be accelerated.
"Do I see it [the need to reassess the recommendation] at the moment? No. Do I see a need for the reform process to be accelerated? Yes I do," he stated.
The very idea of downgrading a country on its way to EU accession is unprecedented, but Macedonia appears to be a unique case in EU integration history. In spite of the fact that it has obtained candidate status, it has for six-and-a-half years now been unable to start accession negotiations due to its 'name dispute' with Greece (see 'Background').
All 12 new EU members from the 2004-2007 waves of enlargement were able to conclude accession negotiations in less than six years.
Despite of the controversial nature of the interview, mainstream media in Macedonia largely ignored it. Asked by EURACTIV to comment, Tanja Milevska, the Brussels correspondent of A1 TV, said that the government in Skopje, which largely controls the media landscape, had once again made sure that critical messages did not reach a wider audience.
A1 TV has tax evasion charges pending, which are being pressed by the government. A possible decision against A1 TV, which will be taken today (20 June), may lead to its bankruptcy. As recently revealed by EURACTIV, US cables clearly state that the government of Nikola Gruevski has a well-established tradition of using the state's judicial and repressive apparatus to quell dissent. A1 TV and the newspapers Vreme and Spic, which belong to the same media group, are among the few voicing criticism against the government in Skopje.