Image by ГоранМирчевски
Macedonians are hoping that it is time for their country to make a step forward in the EU integration process this June. The past EU progress reports have pointed out some significant improvements in certain areas of the country, but there is more to be accomplished in the implementation of necessary reforms required by the European Union – the rule of law remains a must for Macedonian politics. Prime Minister Zaev is convinced that such reforms should be made not only for progress towards EU integration, but also for the country and the Macedonian people themselves.
But there is another key issue that Macedonia should solve before moving forward – its name issue with Greece. The 9th of June is the deadline for a final response. The disputes continue, as both countries are facing strong opposition of their own. None of the versions presented – Northern Macedonia, Upper Macedonia or New Macedonia – seems to have worked until now. President Ivanov has not accepted a solution that can be universally used. He is calling on Prime Minister Zaev to try to reach a national consensus in overcoming the name dispute and find a solution that will not violate Macedonian dignity.
Macedonia’s name dispute has been an issue since the country became independent in the early 1990s. However, with the election of PM Zaev, who is a more liberal leader and ready for changes that will bring about better integration with Europe and with Macedonia’s neighbours, the issue has come back to light again.
There is much upheaval and harsh criticism coming from nationalistic circles. The Macedonian opposition led by VMRO-DPMNE continues to organize protests against the name change. Last Saturday, thousands of people rallied in Skopje, expressing their discontent on the approaching agreement.
The biggest opposition party in Macedonia belongs to the European People’s Party, so it is also getting support from this coalition. Orban himself congratulated the opposition leaders and encouraged them not to bend before the pressures of foreign powers. This development caused a lot of criticism from EU representatives, who consider Orban’s efforts as undermining the solution for stabilisation of the Balkan region from an EU perspective. The EU itself continues to support the agreement on the name solution.
Even in Greece, the opposition is against using the name Macedonia with an adjective, and there have been various protests against all the proposed versions.
For weeks now, a phone call has been expected from Macedonian PM Zaev to Greek PM Tsipras, but all attempts were temporarily postponed. In any event, there is optimism on both parts. Greece is hopeful that the obstacles will be overcome. Macedonian PM Zaev believes that in few days the expected phone call will put an end to the long contest, producing a happy ending for both countries. In the meantime, the Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, has asked the Greek Orthodox Church to stay aside such political and diplomatic issues.
If both Heads of State reach an agreement on what name to use in the coming weeks, it will be presented to the Macedonian Assembly, and then in Autumn, there will be a referendum to ensure the necessary changes in the constitution. That will mark progress on Macedonia’s future towards possible EU integration, together with Albania and other Western Balkan countries. The EU decision will also be forthcoming in June. So the name solution is more urgent than ever for the small country.