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Turkey and EU January 30, 2011

Posted by Yilan in NATO, Turkey.
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Why can’t a member of the NATO and OECD be in European Union?

WHATEVER happened to Turkey’s European dream? It’s nearly six years since Ankara began accession negotiations with the EU. Yet the mirage of joining the European club remains just that — a mirage. No wonder the Turks are getting increasingly frustrated. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos over the weekend, Deputy Premier Ali Babacan complained that the EU was increasingly becoming an “inward-looking Christian club.”

So what’s hampering Turkey’s EU aspirations? Ankara began its membership negotiations with Brussels in 2005. And before that the Turks spent years going through numerous stages of reforms and tense transitions to make themselves acceptable and suitable to the privileged club that is the EU.

In its quest for the “holy grail of Europe” Turkey not only had to scrap numerous laws and traditions that Brussels might have frowned upon, it even amended its constitution. It reached out to all its estranged neighbors and former enemies. Indeed, the proud Turks who not long ago ruled large parts of the world, including many European lands, were forced to bend over backward to address the demands and concerns of the grouping for that prized ticket to Shangri la.

So where has it got Ankara? Nowhere near the goalpost yet.

While a lack of progress has been blamed on Turkey’s troubled ties with Cyprus, a EU member that is not recognized by Ankara, the real stumbling block remains the stiff opposition from big EU players like France and Germany.

Both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have voiced strong and unabashed opposition to Turkey’s EU project, saying it doesn’t belong in Europe. Ironically, both Germany and France are home to large Muslim and ethnic Turkish populations.

The opposition is not limited to the two leaders. Former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing and architect of the EU Constitution has been a strident opponent of Turkey’s EU ambitions, arguing that 95 percent of Turkish population lives outside mainland Europe and warning that if Turkey comes aboard it will be “the end of Europe.”

These voices of chauvinism – perhaps even racism? — in mainstream, liberal Europe have only found a resonance in the growing Islamophobia in the continent in recent years. No wonder Turkey’s European odyssey is yet to take off.

Which is rather unfair. For if Turkey is good enough to be a member of the NATO, Council of Europe and OECD, what makes it less qualified for the EU? If this isn’t duplicity, what is? Besides, it’s not as if only Turkey desperately needs EU. With its fast aging, shrinking population, Europe needs Turkey and its large, vibrant and young work force more than it could bring itself to acknowledge. Turkey has the largest army in the NATO. More important, as the country that literally connects Europe and Asia and the West and the East, Turkey could play a pivotal role in bridging the chasm between the followers of Islam and Christianity, who make up for nearly half of the world population. With its economy growing at the fastest pace in Europe and its investments beyond its neighborhood expanding by leaps and bounds, Turkey is not the sick man of Europe it used to be. This prosperity has gone hand in hand with Ankara’s exalted stature on the world stage. By opening its doors to Turkey, the EU would be doing itself an immense favor.

NATO mission in Macedonia: from military to civilian January 13, 2011

Posted by Yilan in Macedonia, NATO.
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Its security tasks in Macedonia done, the Alliance will now focus on assisting the defence reform process.


photoDefence Minister Zoran Konjanovski (right) accepts the keys to Camp Able Sentry at a ceremony in Skopje.

NATO troops have left Macedonia with the change of the Alliance’s mission there from military to civilian. The move is being widely heralded as a sign that the country is secure and ready for NATO membership.

At a December 28th ceremony, NATO’s military representative to Macedonia, General David Humar, symbolically presented the keys of Camp Able Sentry — located at Skopje’s Alexander the Great Airport — to Defence Minister Zoran Konjanovski.

“This act is a confirmation that Macedonia significantly advanced its defence and security. I hope that in 2011 the name issue will be solved and you will become a full-fledged member of NATO,” Humar said.

The change in mission means that the Alliance will now focus mostly on assisting reforms in the Macedonian military. The remaining NATO personnel are now located at the defence ministry.

A spokesman for the ministry, Sasko Dimov, told SETimes that co-operation over the past 11 years has been based on a multitude of joint projects and a dedication to implementing reforms.

“This year we received excellent marks from NATO [Headquarters] in Brussels for the achieved reforms but also from the defence ministers [of countries] with which Macedonia continually co-operates,” he said. “Within that context is NATO’s troop withdrawal from its headquarters in Skopje. It speaks clearly about our readiness to become immediately a full-fledged member of the Alliance.”

Konjanovski said the Macedonia-NATO partnership has now been raised to a higher level, one significant to the stability and security of the entire region. He added that “the principled partnership between Macedonia and NATO was proven not only here but also in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan”.

“We are always there when the Alliance needs us,” he added.

Over the years, public reaction to NATO’s presence was generally positive. “Our country went through a more or less turbulent period and the co-operation with NATO represented a strong partnership that greatly contributed to strengthening the peace, stability and security in Macedonia and the entire region,” Skopje resident Ljuben Lazarovski, 64, toldSETimes.

Military analyst Petar Shkrbina says the NATO troop withdrawal from Macedonia is a logical consequence to developments in Kosovo, where 3,000 troops are expected to leave in March.

“NATO’s rear headquarters in Macedonia was tasked with securing logistical support for the KFOR troops in Kosovo, but since EULEX took over that mission, there is no more need for activities by the Alliance’s military team in Skopje,” Shkrbina told SETimes. “The advisory NATO team, which will remain in Macedonia, will work on reforms, but that is a completely different organisational unit, apart from the military mission thus far.”

“All this is a positive signal that the region is stable,” he added.


Name Is More Important To Macedonians Than NATO, EU Membership July 28, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Macedonia, NATO, Yunanistan.
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Everybody is concerned about their identity but not to the extent as Macedonians do. A recent poll carried out by the Institute for Political Research showed that a total of 66.5% of Macedonians considered preserving their country’s name more important than joining the EU and the NATO blocs.

Out of 1,110 respondents, only 26.2 percent said that they were in favor of their country’s membership of the two alliances. However, respondents from different ethnic backgrounds had a different say. Nearly 78 percent of ethnic Albanians, who form one quarter of country’s 2.1 billion population, want the country to join the NATO and the EU, while 82 percent said that name was more important to them.

It may be noted that Macedonia’s EU entry was postponed in December last year because of its unresolved name dispute with its southern neighbor Greece. The two neighbors have been fighting over the use of ‘Macedonia’ since 1991 when Macedonia became independent from former Yugoslavia.

Greece argues that the newly-independent state cannot keep the same name that its own northern province already has. Greece is also against the ambiguous use of the term ‘Macedonian’ to describe the neighboring country’s main ethnic group and language.

Greece, which refers Macedonia as former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or FYROM, had also foiled the southeast European nation’s bid to join NATO two years ago over the same dispute.

Macedonia – a forgotten country? May 31, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Macedonia, NATO.
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Bleak analysis of the prospects for Macedonian progress towards the EU and NATO, given the failures of its own political leaders, the relentless policy of nationalist blackmail by its neighbour Greece, and the shameful way in which its European and American ‘friends’ have acquiesced in the Greek blockade

That’s how it is. Life isn’t fair, and reality demands a compromise. These are the words that Erwen Fouréré, the long-standing EU ambassador to Skopje, a witness and occasional actor in Macedonia’s troubles, addressed to his hosts, warning them that the time to reach a deal with Greece over Macedonia’s name was fast running out.

A month from now the EU will decide whether Macedonia, after five years of candidate status, will be given the date for starting negotiations on finally joining the EU. In Macedonia itself, however, there is a gloomy atmosphere of unfulfilled expectations. It is as if the Macedonian government and public have come to accept that Macedonia will draw the short straw in the ‘wrestling match’ at the EU summit in June.

It is most likely, indeed, that the setting of the date will again be postponed, hopefully until the end of the year, less optimistically for an indeterminate period. The formal explanation will be the slowing down, indeed end of reforms; but in reality it is the failure to reach an agreement with Greece over the country’s name. The conflict with which Greece has burdened Macedonia, and which until quite recently was merely a ‘technical problem’ that did not affect Macedonia’s progress towards EU and NATO membership, has in the meantime grown into an ‘unavoidable obstacle’. Or rather, into Brussels’s political ultimatum. It is true that the issue of the name does not appear as a formal condition; but when it comes to choosing between a state that already is a member (Greece) and a state that wishes to become one (Macedonia), there will be no dilemma. Despite sympathy for Macedonia and irritation with the Greek economic assault on EU stability, Macedonia will get short shrift. The offence will be chalked up against the weaker side, although everyone knows full well that the stronger one, which sets the rules, has been playing a highly destructive game.

Though Brussels officials hope for some turnaround by mid-June, its chances are nil. The Macedonian-Greek negotiations on Macedonia’s name reached a dead end several months ago, so that a change in the coming weeks would be truly miraculous. The long-standing American UN mediator in this conflict, Matthew Nimetz, does not believe in a sudden change either, and has been postponing the restart of negotiations. For sure, at the beginning of the this year there was a hope that ‘Republic of Northern Macedonia’ might, under certain conditions, be acceptable to both sides. But it vanished the moment the Greeks ‘explained’ that the change of name from Macedonia to Northern Macedonia would oblige the country to change also its national identity, its language, its constitution, its national anthem and its state emblem and flag – a recasting in fact of the whole of its history and culture.

The Macedonians interpreted this Greek ‘shopping-list’ in the only possible way – as the introduction of a Greek protectorate. The idea consequently, and logically, died even before it had been officially endorsed. A section of Macedonian public opinion, and certain political circles in Skopje, were initially positively inclined towards the name ‘Northern Macedonia’. But when the Greeks upped their demands, the Macedonians responded by reviving the old idea of a referendum on the name, the negative outcome of which is beyond doubt.

Greece responded to the idea of ‘letting the people decide’ by accusing Macedonia of blocking its ‘cooperation’ and ‘good will’ in the search for a ‘mutually acceptable compromise’. In fact, Greece is in no hurry (though one might think differently, given the seriousness of its crisis), all the more so because it has finally and without much effort won the support of EU leaders for its irrational national campaign, despite the fact that its economic and financial policy has brought into question the very survival of the euro and of the European Union. Athens can allow itself the luxury of simultaneously relaxing its chronic inter-state tensions with Turkey, thus winning the sympathy of Brussels and Washington, and assuaging European frustrations with the consequences of the Greek economic collapse. Turkey is more important to the international community than Macedonia, and the Greek prime minister can therefore afford to risk the wrath of Greek nationalists at his dialogue with Turkey. The tightening of the screw on its ‘unreasonable’ Macedonian neighbour comes as a recompense to the nationalists, at a time of real danger that the domestic crisis might unite the social and nationalist revolts into a powerful anti-government and anti-EU movement. This is why the so-called red line of Greek national interests is being maintained against the small and weak Macedonia, a line that Prime Minister Papandreas will not dare to cross.

But whereas Greece, therefore, may be in no hurry to reach a settlement with Skopje (not least because the very maintenance of mutual tensions causes serious internal trouble for Macedonia), one would expect Macedonia itself to be keen to arrive at a settlement that would unfreeze its current status as a forgotten country, and put it on the path to membership of the EU and NATO. This, however, does not appear to be the case.

The long and exhausting ‘war’ with Greece has created a situation of near-complete lethargy, with elements of indifference. The economic crisis is deepening, investors are avoiding the country as too risky, the social situation is increasingly hopeless, reforms have practically ceased, the prospects for Euro-Atlantic integration are receding – all this is creating anew a deep political crisis characterised by growing tensions between the country’s Macedonian majority and Albanian minority.

Instead of intensifying diplomatic activity, the government headed by Nikola Gruevski (VMRO- DPMNE) seems to have opted instead for a tactic of silence combined with anticipation, guided by a strange logic that time is in fact on Macedonia’s side. The idea being, it seems, that Europe will in time tire of Greek nationalist belligerence and arrogance, if not because of the Greek tactic of systematically undermining Macedonia, then because of the catastrophic effect of Greek economic mismanagement on European stability. Pursuing a tactic of ‘mutual attrition’, Macedonian nationalism in the form of a ‘return to antiquity’ has been offered as a response to Greek nationalism (though the intensity of the search for a new ancient Macedonian identity has somewhat diminished). Convinced that truth and justice is on its side, the government appears no longer interested in finding friends and allies abroad, and it is here that the main reason for the current near-total marginalisation of the country’s international position should be sought.

An ideological war is instead being waged against internal critics, with the government using its media to indict ‘traitors’, those who ‘favour selling the national spirit and dignity’ (i.e. argue for continuation of dialogue with Greece), and this is turning the Macedonian political scene into an arena of permanent confrontation. There is a real danger that, in the absence of a speedy internal political agreement, Macedonia could easily revert to the situation that pertained on the eve of the armed conflict between the authorities and mutinous Albanians in 2001.

Prime Minister Gruevski is no longer preoccupied with Athens, Brussels and Washington, but with the fanning of domestic conflict in order to hold off the Macedonian and Albanian political opposition and to create a suitably nationalist atmosphere for winning a new mandate at the increasingly likely early elections. With this in mind, the critics of the Macedonian government agree that it is, in fact, not in its interest to reach a compromise with Greece. Gruevski’s coalition government, involving the leader of the Albanian national community Ali Ahmeti, is on the point of collapse, as both sides contest the Ohrid Agreement that ended the war in 2001, the ruling party arguing that it gave too much to the Albanians while the Albanians believe that federalisation of the state offers the only way out of the crisis. The situation has become so confused that no one in Skopje can confidently predict what will come first: early elections with a new political configuration, or a new conflict between Macedonian and Albanian nationalists.

Macedonia, which back in the 1990s was a bright spot in the sea of Balkan troubles, appears today to be losing a sense of orientation, having been left to itself through its own but primarily through international fault.

In a situation of growing external pressure on Macedonia to capitulate on the name issue, with Greece sticking to its maximalist demands, and with Brussels irresponsibly willing to sacrifice Macedonia by letting it drown in internal troubles and using it as small change in Balkan trade-offs, few in Skopje can argue with any degree of confidence that the European idea retains its earlier dominant appeal. The growing impression is rather that the Euro-Atlantic enthusiasm is being slowly and steadily exhausted.

Romania supports Macedonia’s bids to join NATO, EU May 30, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Macedonia, NATO.
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Romanian President Traian Basescu said on Thursday that his country would give its unconditional support to Macedonia’s bids to join NATO and the European Union.

Basescu, who is paying an official visit to Macedonia, made the announcement at a joint press conference with his Macedonian counterpart Gjorge Ivanov, news reaching here from Skopje said.

“I am glad that President Basescu expressed Romania’s readiness to be Macedonia’s voice in the EU and NATO. They can present our positions where we are unable to take part,” Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov said.

On the issue of the name row between Macedonia and Greece, Basescu said his country wouldn’t give exclusive support to either Macedonia or Greece, but to a reasonable compromise between the two countries.

“We do not give exclusive support to any of the parties. We support reasonable compromise, a mutual settlement that satisfies both sides,” he stressed.

Greece has been opposed to its northern neighbor using the name of Macedonia, arguing that the name implies territorial claims against its own northern province of Macedonia.

Macedonia’s efforts to join NATO and the EU have been blocked over the issue, which has dogged the two neighbors for the past 19 years.

Basescu also reiterated that his country will not recognize the independence of Kosovo, a southern Serbian province which declared unilateral independence from Serbia in early 2008.