Greece floats proposal for Macedonia name solution


Greece has tabled a draft memorandum of understanding apparently aimed at seeking a solution to its long-standing name dispute with EU candidate Macedonia. But EU diplomats expressed disappointment at its content, which doesn’t appear to make new proposals.

The draft memorandum, published Thursday (4 October) on the Greek foreign ministry website, repeats diplomatic language already used in bilateral documents, stressing that both sides would commit to respecting each other's national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and renounce any present or future territorial claims.

In a direct reference to what is widely seen as appropriation of ancient Greek history by Macedonia (see background), it calls for both sides to agree that they would refrain from actions or statements that risk undermining the negotiations, “including through the use of symbols constituting part of the historical or cultural patrimony of the other.”

A fresh impetus?

Finally, the draft says that the sides would “agree to give a fresh impetus” to the talks to solve the name dispute under the auspices of the UN – despite years of efforts by a UN mediator to find a solution.

An EU diplomat said he saw “nothing new” in the Greek paper and that it was broadly seen as a “disappointment”.

Greece and Macedonia have been locked in a dispute over the smaller country's constitutional name since it became independent from the crumbling Yugoslavia in 1991.

On the name issue, the Greek paper says that “any proposal should contain a clear and definitive qualifier”, which “will leave no ambiguities as to the distinction between the territory of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and regions in neighbouring countries, in particular, the region of Macedonia in northern Greece, and that the name agreed upon will be used by all erga omnes and for all purposes.”

Erga omnes” means using the name to be agreed in "relations with everyone," thus rejecting the notion that a name "for internal use" could be kept.

Speaking to the United Nations 67th General Assembly in New York last month, Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said Greece believed in a “fair settlement” resulting in a name with a “geographical qualifier” given that Macedonia is a geographical region that overlaps the territories of Greece, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav republic.

‘Northern’ or ‘Upper’ Macedonia?

Diplomats have been speculating whether “Northern Macedonia” or “Upper Macedonia” could be acceptable to both sides.

According to the Macedonian daily Dnevnik, the authorities in Skopje said they would respond positively to the Greek memorandum, but also give their own version.

It remains unclear if Greece would lift its objection for Macedonia to start accession negotiations with the EU, in the case the memorandum is signed, even if the talks to find a mutually acceptable name still drag on.

Greece has itself set a priority for its EU presidency during the first half of 2014 “the revitalisation and acceleration of the enlargement process of all countries of the Western Balkans, including that of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.” 

According to one EU diplomat, Greece may be tempted to unblock the accession talks with Macedonia, by signing the memorandum, just to “keep happy” its EU family. But he added that it was not in the interest of the Greek government to add to the public discontent with a compromise on the name issue, which would be seen by the country’s nationalists as an outrage.

Wasted time?

The timing of the memorandum apparently would help the European Commission to reaffirm Macedonia’s EU perspective. On 10 October the EU executive is due to publish its yearly reports on the progress – or lack of such – of the EU candidates and hopefuls: Iceland, Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

The EU Commission issued a recommendation to start accession negotiations with Macedonia in December 2005. Since then, in the absence of the Greek veto – at least in theory – Macedonia could have wrapped up the negotiations. Croatia, another former Yugoslav republic, started accession negotiations in 2005, completed them in 2011 and is due to join the EU on 1 July 2013.

All 12 new EU members from the 2004-2007 waves of enlargement were able to conclude accession negotiations in less than six years.

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.

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 ethnic-Albanian communities (organised militarily in the National Liberation Army) and Macedonian forces.

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 (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'EU-Macedonia relations').

Seen from Athens, the official name used by Skopje – Republic of Macedonia – is an open challenge to the Greek region of Macedonia. In reprisal, Greece pledged to veto Macedonia's participation in international organisations, including the EU, until the issue is resolved.

Subscribe to our newsletters