The failure of Macedonia to secure an invitation to join NATO at the Alliance’s summit despite the accession of its neighbours could have a negative impact on its bid to join the EU, according to a number of politicians and analysts. EURACTIV Romania contributed to this report from Bucharest.
While NATO leaders gathered at the summit in Bucharest on 2 April invited Croatia and Albania to join the Alliance, Greece used its veto to block the bid of its neighbour Macedonia on the grounds of a long-standing ‘name’ dispute between Athens and Skopje.
Greek officials also stated that Macedonia has violated good neighbourly relations with their country and thus it did not yet deserve to become a member of the Alliance.
But Macedonia’s negotiator in the ‘name’ dispute talks with Greece, Nikola Dimitrov, rejected these claims. “We are punished not because of unfulfilled NATO benchmarks, but for who we are. We are punished for our Macedonian identity,” he told the Associated Press news agency following the Greek veto.
Macedonia reacted with disappointment and condemnation, boycotting further sessions of the Summit on 3 April. Security was also stepped up in front of the Greek Embassy in Skopje although there was no immediate reason to believe violent outbursts of anger against Greece would follow.
The small country has repeatedly offended Greece and Bulgaria by appropriating parts of ancient Greek history. The recent naming of Skopje’s airport “Alexander the Great” provoked the anger of Athens, while Bulgaria has reacted on numerous occasions when large sections of its medieval and recent history were “adapted” for Macedonian textbooks.
Bulgaria’s spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dimitar Tsanchev stated on 2 April: “Bulgaria insists that the historic, cultural and other facts related with the geographical zone of Macedonia be respected. Today there are three states on this territory, including Bulgaria.”
Nevertheless Tsantchev also warned that the blockage of Macedonia’s accession “would mean delaying the process of European and Euro-Atlantic integration”.
The same concern was raised by several European leaders. Before the dinner in Bucharest, when the NATO enlargement issue was discussed, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, warned that if Macedonia failed to get an invitation to join NATO, it would be a bad sign for EU enlargement too.
What’s more, a delay in inviting Macedonia to join NATO could encourage radicals and fuel instability in the Balkans, warned Albania’s Prime Minister Sali Berisha, quoted by Reuters.
“There is no formal link between EU and NATO as regards membership but of course many of the criteria of NATO membership overlap with EU membership,” Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee in Brussels on 2 April.
Macedonia hopes to officially open EU membership talks this year. But the most recent assessment of its progress by the European Commission says that “frequent tensions and problems in achieving constructive dialogue between major political actors undermined the functioning of the political institutions and led to a slowdown in reforms”.
The summit also saw Georgia and Ukraine’s hopes of joined NATO dashed, as leaders refused to grant them official candidate status. However, they did acknowledge that the two countries would one day become NATO members.