A renowned research institute has suggested that Macedonia change its name to an agreed formula on the day of its EU accession as a means of resolving its ongoing dispute with Greece. As exotic as this may seem, the proposal has already triggered interest and debate in regional media.
A few weeks ago the European Stability Initiative (ESI), a non-profit research and policy institute, published a proposal on how to solve the so-called 'name dispute' pitting Skopje and Athens against one another (see 'Background').
The dispute has emerged as one of the most significant deadlocks in efforts to stabilise the Western Balkans.
The proposal, signed by ESI President Gerald Knaus, has triggered a lot of interest and debate in regional media, the institute notes in a press release circulated yesterday (12 July).
The ESI was founded in June 1999 by a multi-national group of practitioners and analysts with extensive experience in the Western Balkan region.
The basic idea is simple, the ESI paper argues. Although officials across the EU, and even some in Skopje, believe that the current Greek government of George Papandreou would like to see a solution to the name dispute, overall trust in the Greek political establishment outside of Greece remains limited.
While most Europeans find the Greek position puzzling or irrational, the prevailing political thinking in many capitals is that the EU enlargement process should be slowed down, the ESI paper notes. In this context, the fact that Macedonia's EU bid is stuck is even welcome, the institute claims.
Gerald Knaus is categorical in saying that if a compromise between Skopje and Athens is reached, then a referendum in Macedonia will be called.
But the Macedonian politicians who may be ready to make concessions over the country's name would do so only on the condition that it would actually ensure the country's EU accession, the ESI director argues.
To "square the circle," the ESI suggests making a constitutional amendment in Skopje that changes the country's name now, allowing Athens to support the start of EU accession talks later this year. But the amendment would only foresee the change's entry into force on the day Macedonia actually joins the EU.
The proposed constitutional change could read: "All references to the Republic of Macedonia in this constitution will be replaced by a reference to XX (a compromise name) on the day this country joins the European Union."
If for some reason Skopje never joins the EU, it will never have to change its name, the ESI paper reads.
Knaus also argues that the proposed solution would allow both countries and their leaders to claim victory. In parallel, Greece should promise to allow Macedonia to join NATO under the name FYROM (the name under which Macedonia joined the UN) once the constitutional changes have been passed, he says.