Tajani infuriates Greece with ‘Macedonia’ comment

Syriza MEP Kostas Chrysogonos: "Tajani proved to be not only ignorant of history, but also frivolous”. [EPP/ Flickr]

Greek politicians reacted strongly to a video published yesterday (25 January) showing the newly elected President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, calling the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia  “Macedonia.” EURACTIV Greece reports.

Although Macedonia is recognised as the country’s constitutional name by most member states, the name dispute with Greece has blocked the country’s membership in both the EU and NATO [See background].

Croatian MEP invites angry Greeks to join ‘Friends of Macedonia’

The creation of an informal “Friends of Macedonia” group in the European Parliament has triggered strong reactions among Greek MEPs, who said that the EU’s door was closed for Skopje.

During a visit to Skopje in February 2016, Tajani, then a Commissioner, said, “Macedonia is a beautiful country. Everyone in Italy knows Macedonia. Why? Because Alexander the Great and Philip of Macedon are very popular ancestors of yours.”

“Without Alexander [the Great] we would have no Europe because he was the first king who stopped the invasion by Iran and those countries. That’s why they call him Alexander the Great. He strengthened the European borders,” Tajani added.

Greek TV channel Ant1 published the video yesterday, triggering a strong response from parties across Greece’s political spectrum, including the right-wing New Democracy, which is a member of Tajani’s European People’s Party.

Tajani’s reaction

In an effort to calm things down, the president of the European Parliament issued a press release today (26 January) emphasising that the EU legislature recognises as the only country name the internationally recognised “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.

“Regarding the Greek press reports about the prior year’s visit of Mr. Tajani in Skopje, the newly elected European Parliament President confirms the established position of the European Parliament that the body recognises as the only country name the internationally recognised ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ (FYROM),” the statement said.

“Ignorant of history”

Syriza MEP Kostas Chrysogonos said that Tajani proved to be “not only ignorant of history, but also frivolous”.

New Democracy MEP Eliza Vozemberg noted that the Italian politician had “no idea of geography” while Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) MEP Nikos Androulakis wondered, “Just imagine if Tajani’s mother was not a professor of ancient Greek. What would he say?”

EU foreign affairs chief also made the blunder of calling Macedonia “Macedonia”, but hasn’t repeated the mistake since.

Iconoclast Mogherini calls Macedonia ‘Macedonia’

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini surprised many in the press room today, when she called ‘Macedonia’ the country that calls itself Macedonia.


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. The government of Macedonia however says the majority of the population are not Slavs, but descendants from Alexander the Great.

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.

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 most EU countries, the name dispute with Greece has led to an impasse for the country's membership of both the EU and Nato. UK, Poland, Romania and 13 other EU countries call the country Macedonia, while France, Germany, Spain and nine other EU members call it “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom).

Greece also believes that Skopje is misappropriating large chunks of its ancient history. The airport in Skopje was named after Alexander the Great, who is seen by Greece as a hero of its ancient history. Recently, Skopje angered Athens by erecting a giant statue of a ‘warrior on horseback’ resembling Alexander the Great.

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