What’s in a Name: Ironing Out Macedonia’s EU Prospects

Written by | Friday, February 2nd, 2018

Macedonia is working on its European future and joining the West but before it can do so, everybody needs to agree on its name. The former part of Yugoslavia, the country adopted the shortened version of its former name – Macedonia – when it became independent 27 years ago. That triggered a dispute with neighboring Greece, which is home to a region called Macedonia called after the ancient kingdom of Alexander the Great. The two countries have been in a disagreement over the naming ever since and Athens used its veto to keep Macedonia out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union.

The naming dispute that is 2½ millennia old is, however, nearing its resolution. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev in Davos and they announced confidence-building measures. Both sides have committed to compromise on a new name before the next NATO meeting in mid-July – the options on the table include: “New Macedonia,” “Upper Macedonia,” or “North Macedonia.” “We either make this region stable with strong institutions, with functional democracies, or we have a region in a permanent state of crisis,” said Nikola Dimitrov, Macedonia’s foreign minister, adding that “Europe and the region will be much better off with the first option.”

More than 70% of Macedonians are in favor of EU membership, according to a September study by the Washington-based International Republican Institute’s Center for Insights. The European Union is getting concerned by the potential risk of political instability in the Balkans. Macedonia is the only country whose hope of EU membership is being blocked by self-defeating squabbles, as some EU leaders call it. In a separate but similar development, Serbia does not recognize Kosovo and neither can join the EU until this issue is sorted out.

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