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Brussels concerned by Macedonian attitude September 12, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, Macedonia.
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‘It is time for a decision on the Macedonian name issue’ was the message delivered in no uncertain terms by EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov during a meeting in Brussels.

Macedonia received a positive assessment from the Commission last November on its general preparedness for EU membership, clearing the way for the country to start EU membership talks. In the EU Council, however, the move was blocked by Greece, which is grumbling over the long-standing name issue.

Gjorge Ivanov (l) meeting Jose Manuel Barroso

Greece, whose northern province is also called Macedonia, wants the ex-Yugoslav country to add a geographical determinant to its official name “Republic of Macedonia” before Athens gives the green light for EU membership negotiations. The two countries have been engaged in bilateral negotiations under UN auspices since 1995 but so far without any tangible results. Instead, Macedonia and Greece continue to goad each other with nationalistic statements and actions.

The Macedonian President had come to Brussels hoping to persuade his interlocutors to let his country negotiate EU membership while continuing efforts to resolve the name dispute with Athens. He hoped in vain. Mr Barroso had to disappoint his guest by pointing out that EU Council rules require unanimity in enlargement issues meaning the name issue must be solved as quickly as possible.

“I call for a solution to the name issue, it is time for a decision,” Mr Barroso said, adding that he is optimistic this could soon take place. His optimism, he said, is based on the bilateral contacts between Skopje and Athens. The Macedonian and Greek prime ministers have met several times this year, raising hopes that the dispute could be solved after 17 years and that the path towards the European Union would be opened for Macedonia.

Mr Barroso reminded Mr Ivanov that the positive annual report on Macedonia issued by the Commission last year as well as visa liberalisation were meant not only as recognition of reform efforts undertaken but also and even more as an encouragement to solve the name dispute. “Unfortunately, this didn’t happen”, Mr Baroso said. EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Füle and the President of the EU Council Herman Van Rompuy sent out the same message.

Brussels diplomats say they are confused by the Macedonian attitude. For a long time, Greece had been the hesitant party, trying to avoid a solution.

“This time, the position of Greece is very clear, we have the impression that they have moved and made an effort in the right direction and we wait for Skopje’s response which is not coming”, one diplomat said.

Athens has indicated that the solution should be a geographical determinant to the name. Skopje insists that the Macedonian identity of its citizens needs to be protected but has not offered a proposal of its own.

Brussels is concerned about Macedonia’s future in Europe. The trouble is, another diplomat said, that time is running out. “Macedonia could simply fall off the agenda,” he warned. Diplomats are tired of the verbal assurances repeating that Macedonia wants a solution while there are no clear signs of political will backing it up.

At the same time, the reform process is not doing too well. Progress slowed down in the course of the last year. Mr Barroso reminded his Macedonian guest that huge efforts are needed to establish political dialogue between the government and the opposition, to reform the judiciary and public administration and to fight against crime and corruption.

Encouraged by the recent Serbian breakthrough on Kosovo, which might open the way for Belgrade to obtain EU candidate status next year, diplomats in Brussels hope that Skopje as well will show more courage in dealing with Greece.

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