Macedonia name dispute inspires exotic idea

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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.

Enlargement fatigue

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.

The proposal by Gerald Knaus deserves thorough study and debate, columnist Ivica Bocevki, a former Macedonian European affairs minister, writes in Bulgarian daily Dnevnik.

Bocevski basically agrees with Knaus' view that the political climate in Greece may change over the years of Macedonia's accession negotiations, and therefore the need for "strategic insurance" is obvious, he argues.

Bocevski also touches upon the issue of a referendum in Macedonia to endorse a possible compromise over the 'name issues'. A favourable climate for such a poll should be carefully put in place, otherwise prevailing nationalistic views would destroy any compromise, he argues.

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 – 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 all EU countries except Greece, the name dispute has led to an impasse in the country's membership of both the EU and NATO.

According to recent information from diplomatic sources, a name with a geographic connotation – defining Macedonia more as a region than a country – would be acceptable to Greece (EURACTIV 07/04/10).

Greece insists that the new geographic name should be used in Skopje's "relations with everyone," rejecting Skopje’s suggestion that a name could be kept "for internal use".

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