All Roads Lead Away from Belgium
Macedonia applied for EU membership in 2004 and it has been on the EU agenda since 2005. As of 2021, the EU has yet to admit Macedonia as a member state. It has met all the necessary requirements for admission. However, according to EU regulations, all members must vote unanimously to allow a state to join. Greece for the past 19 years has held up admission because of its name, Macedonia.
The logic behind Greece’s objection is that it fears that ancient Macedonia with its Hellenistic background will be confused with modern-day Macedonia. Nationalist Macedonians lay claim to Hellenistic figures such as Alexander the Great, the Greeks believe otherwise. While the historic objections should be resolved, they should be addressed as equal members in the EU. A side issue that has proven to be problematic is that Greece believes it has some historic claim to Macedonia. It does not.
Current day Macedonia has never belonged to Greece, though there was a time when part of Greece’s northern territory was part of Macedonia. There was even a minority of ethnic Macedonians that inhabited that parcel of land. However, that territory was awarded to Greece in the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest.
Before we can dissect the current political climate of the EU, we must take a step back to show how poorly the EU and NATO operated while in Macedonia. We must look at the conflict of 2001.
The 2001 conflict involved Albanian nationalist insurgents (NLA) against the Macedonian government. NATO disarmed the NLA in the hopes of jump-starting conciliary meetings between the insurgents and the Macedonians, in an operation called Essential Harvest. It is not clear why NATO declared this operation a success, but they did. NATO collected just over 3,000 weapons from the insurgents. Most of the weapons collected were either inoperable or antiquated. In addition, the Macedonian government had credible intelligence that there were at least 70,000 additional weapons that the insurgents had. To add insult to injury, NATO itself intercepted thousands of more weapons that were to be sent to the insurgents. It seems to be that NATO was just paying lip service to its mission and did not want to publicly admit it as a failure.
NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur responded to speculations being made in the press regarding the period immediately following the end of Operation Essential Harvest. He stated that “Once Operation Essential Harvest has successfully completed its task, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be entering a phase of consolidation. It will be for the government of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to decide how it wants to proceed forward, taking advantage of what we believe will be a promising environment for stability and peace because of Operation Essential Harvest.”
He added that the international community, including NATO, will want to remain engaged in the region during the consolidation period in supporting the government and the people of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The NATO brokered peace deal under the terms of the Ohrid agreement was accepted by the Macedonians and the Albanians even though it did not solve the original underlying issues. It gave legitimacy for the EU, however superficial as it was, to be in the region and hopefully allow new members to join.
It should be noted that in 2008, Macedonia began accession talks to join the EU. After a process of negotiations which lasted over two years, a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) between the EU and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was signed.
Almost 20 years later that has not happened. On average, it takes just under five years from the opening of accession negotiations, to join the EU. As of this writing, it has not gained entrance into the EU.
Croatia, which signed its SAA much later, has already been accepted.
Greece and now Bulgaria have prevented Macedonia from joining the EU because of its name. The EU has proven that it cannot operate fairly in regards to Macedonia. Even as negotiations with Macedonia stall, Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi found it to be a non-issue.
Várhelyi’s comments prompted this response from Nikola Dimitrov, Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs: “The overwhelming majority of EU member states support having IGCs [opening membership talks] with both Albania and North Macedonia.” He added, “The case of North Macedonia is a test of the EU’s credibility in the Western Balkans: will the EU keep its promises?”
Florian Bieber, a professor of southeast European history and politics at Graz University, told Euronews this latest development to not allow North Macedonia’s accession, a process that has now dragged on for more than 15 years, would have ramifications across the Balkans.
“It’s really undermining EU credibility, way beyond North Macedonia,” he said. “There is a genuine sense that this is never going to end. Serbia is also increasingly skeptical that they will ever see enlargement [to incorporate them into the EU].”
John Thomas Williams hails from England and is a person of colour. He was educated in the United States, where he learned economics. He has been a political consultant for foreign governments and is now a finacial analyst. He has returned back to his native country and works for himself. Prefers he/him pronouns.