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Will Macedonia’s Dream to Join NATO and the EU Remain a Delusion?

The Republic of Macedonia spans over a small area and is the home of a little over two million citizens. It’s beautiful landscape consists of various mountain ranges, natural lakes, fascinating flaura and fauna for the nature lovers, as well as a multitude of historic sites for the history buffs. The country lies in the Balkan Peninsula bordering Bulgaria to the east, Albania to the West, Kosovo and Serbia to the north, and Greece to the south.

In December 2005, the Republic of Macedonia was granted candidacy status for the European Union by the European Commission. However, seven years later, Macedonia finds itself no closer to advancing their plan for accession into the Union thanks to none other than their neighbor Greece, a member of the EU since 1981. Furthermore, at the 2008 Bucharest summit, NATO attempted to extend an invitation to Macedonia to join the organization. This invitation was once again blocked by the mighty NATO member country Greece. Though at times wavering, the Macedonia’s desire and attempt to join the European Union and NATO remains a top priority for its citizens and government despite Greece’s roadblock.

The conflict between Macedonia and Greece was sparked a little over 20 years ago, following Macedonia’s peaceful succession from the Republic of Yugoslavia. The conflict between the two nations is centered on a name issue. The conflict is regarding Macedonia’s constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia, and is largely driven by exaggerated and unsubstantiated historic and territorial claims made by the Greek government. Greece fears that using the name Macedonia will alienate the people in its northern region who identify themselves as Macedonians, not because they are Slavic but because that region used to be a part of the ancient kingdom of Macedon. Greece also fears that if the name Republic of Macedonia is accepted, Macedonia will seek to unite ethnic Macedonians into one nation as it was in the past. In 1913, the Treaty of Bucharest separated the United Ethnic Macedonia dividing its territory between Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, and Serbia. Despite multiple statements by the Macedonian government denouncing any plans of creating a unified nation, the Greek government has continued propaganda stating otherwise in an attempt to rally the public.

Macedonia has spent many years reforming to comply with NATO membership obligations and even more years and resources to acquire the acquis communitaire required for accession into the European Union. Despite immense progress and desire from both organizations to invite Macedonia into the unions, Greece’s threat of vetoing has kept the country in limbo for years. Following Greece’s veto of the 2008 NATO invitation, Macedonia began proceedings before the International Court of Justice alleging Greece’s violation of the 1995 interim agreement between the two countries. In the agreement Greece vowed to not object to Macedonia’s admission to international or regional organizations that Greece was already a member of. Despite the Court’s declaration delivered in December 2011 that Greece was indeed in violation of the article, no form of coercion was used by the Court to ensure that Greece followed the verdict.

Even though over 130 countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Russia, and the People’s Republic of China, currently recognize Macedonia under its constitutional name of Republic of Macedonia, Greece has yet to alter its position. The year 2009 marked the beginning of Greece’s debt crisis which years later continues to threaten the existence and prosperity of the European Monetary Union as well as the economic stability of many countries around the world. While Greece remains a member of NATO and the EU, it is inconceivable that its power in either has not diminished in the slightest as a consequence of their deception that led to the economic crisis. Macedonia’s relatively stable economy, continual improvement in areas like healthcare, education and treatment of the minority, and involvement in peacekeeping missions directed by NATO, make it deserving of a membership in both the EU and NATO.

The end to this naming dispute would undoubtedly lead to greater advancement by the Republic of Macedonia. It can also squash possible conflict between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians in Macedonia who have opposing thoughts on the severity of the naming issue.  Furthermore, allowing Macedonia into the EU will also help unify the Balkan Peninsula and bring the EU closer to their goal to unify all European countries. Therefore, it is imperative that the dispute between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece is put to rest.