Macedonia under pressure to solve ‘name dispute’

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The EU's representative in Macedonia, Ambassador Erwan Fouéré, urged Skopje yesterday (6 April) to speedily resolve a 19-year dispute with Greece over the Balkan country's name. Recent statements by a Greek official were reported by the Western media – perhaps wrongly – as an "ouverture".

On Tuesday, Macedonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on recent remarks by Greek Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Dimitris Droutsas, who was widely quoted as saying that Athens would accept the name 'Northern Macedonia' as a means of ending a dispute that has derailed the Balkan country's EU accession negotiations.

However, not all media reported the full extent of Droutsas' statement. The Greek added that the name 'Northern Macedonia' should be used in Skopje's "relations with everyone," thus rejecting the notion that a name "for internal use" could be kept.

'Dual use' or 'erga omnes'

According to information from diplomatic sources, UN mediator Matthew Nimetz had proposed that the name 'Republic of Macedonia' should remain for internal use, while 'Republic of North Macedonia' would be used in international relations. Similarly, his compromise proposal states that the passports of Macedonian citizens would bear the name 'Republic of Northern Macedonia' when written in English, but only 'Republic of Macedonia' in the Macedonian language.

Such 'dual use' would help Skopje to avoid amending its constitution. Western pressure has already forced the country to make changes to its constitution once, after an ethnic conflict in 2001 and the signing of the so-called 'Ohrid' framework agreement. Even before that, in the mid-1990s Macedonia was forced to remove the Vergina sun from its flag and delete alleged irredentist clauses from its constitution.

Nowadays, the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski refuses to make any fresh changes to the constitution and threatens to hold a referendum on the issue if faced with such pressure.

As for Droutsas, he strongly rejected any hint of 'dual use' and insisted on the 'erga omnes' formula, meaning a name for all international uses that legally describes obligations and rights towards all.

"We are very clear: a name with a geographical qualifier, for use in relation to everyone. A geographical qualifier that makes clear the reality of the situation, and for use in relation to everyone, so that the hide-and-seek can stop and a definitive solution can be found. 'Northern Macedonia' fits within the framework for the solution that I am describing," Droutsas stated.

Asked by a journalist if there would still be a need for changing Macedonia’s constitution, the Greek diplomat said: "The solution that we agree upon will have to be implemented fully and universally. If real implementation means a change in the constitution, then that is what will have to happen."

If the prime minister in Skopje (Nikola Gruevski) rejects the Greek proposal, he will have to explain to his people "why he is depriving them of their European perspective," Droutsas warned.

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.

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 NATO and the EU.

The Bucharest summit of 4 April 2008, during which Croatia and Albania were invited to join NATO while Macedonia's bid was put on ice, was perceived as a serious blow to Skopje's hopes. It also sparked harsh criticism of the Greek stance, as it was seen as a breach of the 1995 UN Interim Accord (EURACTIV 04/04/08).

The last and most promising option for reaching a solution appears to be 'Republic of Northern Macedonia'. What remains to be determined is the scope of the new name's use, including for example whether all documents, including passports, would need to be changed accordingly.

According to a number of international negotiators, including EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and Nimetz himself, the coming months could produce a long-awaited solution to the name issue (EURACTIV 17/02/10).

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