Accession of Macedonia to the European Union

The Sun, too, is a star…

The sovereign will of the Macedonians to create their own state and be responsible for their own future has been confirmed in 1991 on the referendum for secession from the Yugoslav federation. The Macedonian leadership, lead by Kiro Gligorov, managed to take Macedonia out of Yugoslavia without a single fired shot. The Arbitration Commission of the Peace Conference on Yugoslavia, presided by Robert Badinter, in its opinion No. 6 has given the European Community a green light to accept Macedonia’s request for recognition, based on the assessment that the country has given the necessary guarantees to respect human rights and international peace and security[1].

From the very beginning Macedonia faced with the shadows that lurked from the history and the interests of its neighbors along with the internal challenges, mainly the political and economic reforms that were expected to bring better live for the Macedonian citizens. Greece has denied the use of the name Macedonia, perceiving Macedonia as a security threat in the early 90’s, whilst at a later stage it will also claim that the government in Skopje is attempting to reinvent history by using the historical heritage of the ancient Macedonian Kingdom and Alexander the Great, which Greece considers as its own heritage. Bulgaria, even though the first one to recognize officially Macedonia has been denying the existence of the Macedonians as a separate ethnic group from the Bulgarians, while it is more of a religious issue, nevertheless some argue to have a political background, the Serbian Orthodox Church has refused to recognize the Macedonian Orthodox Church as separate.

In such a turbulent period, for the Macedonian leadership it was more than clear that for a prosperous future the country’s interest is to join the European Economic Community (EEC), mainly for economic reasons, and for security reasons to join NATO. Despite the demonstrated commitment by Macedonia to carry out a peaceful transformation from totalitarianism to democracy, its ambitions were shattered at the Lisbon Summit in 1992, whereby, under the immense pressure by Greece, the European Council has adopted a resolution which stated “its readiness to recognize the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia under a name which does not include the term ‘Macedonia’[2]”.

On the 9th of April 2001, nine years after the Lisbon Summit, Macedonia has signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. It was the first in the region to sign such an agreement with the EU. This Agreement was a step further in the process of joining to the EU and recognition for the achievement of the Macedonian young democracy. It entered into force in April 2004.

In December 2005 the European Council decided to grant Macedonia with candidate status. However, the name dispute with Greece has proved to be an obstacle on Macedonia’s road to join the NATO and the EU. In 2008, at the NATO Summit in Bucharest, Macedonia was not invited to join NATO, mainly because of the Greek objections. In 2009, Macedonia was given a recommendation by the European Commission to open negotiations with the EU, but the European Council, again under the pressure of the Greek side, did not grant a date for opening of the negotiations. As an attempt not to stall the pace of reforms in Macedonia, in 2012 the EU has launched the so called “High Level Accession Dialogue” which was ought to substitute the negotiations. In October 2013 the European Commission has issued the Progress Report on Macedonia, which for the 5th consecutive time recommended opening of the negotiations with the EU. The report makes several notes[3]:

Political criteria

Macedonia continues to sufficiently fulfill the political criteria for membership of the EU. The High Level Accession Dialogue with the Commission continues to serve as a driver for reforms and has contributed to progress in a number of key areas.

A constructive approach to relations with neighboring EU Member States remains important and, 20 years after the country’s entry into the United Nations, a solution to the ‘name issue’, under UN auspices, should be found.

Economic criteria

In 2012, the economic situation deteriorated mildly against the background of a challenging external economic environment. The country remains well advanced and, in some areas, has made further progress towards becoming a functioning market economy. The country should be able to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union in the medium term, provided that it vigorously implements its reform programme in order to reduce significant structural weaknesses.

EU legislation

The country has achieved a high level of alignment with the EU regarding legislation, policies and administrative capacity considering where it is in the accession process. The focus is now on administrative capacity and coordination mechanisms, within the national administration, to ensure effective implementation. Further efforts are needed in areas such as regional policy, environment and climate change, social policy and employment, and financial control.

A particular emphasis has been put on the issue of a constructive approach with neighboring EU member states, mainly Greece, since the ‘name dispute’[4] has been the main reason why Greece blocks the opening of the negotiations with the EU.

Macedonia’s timeline

  • 1999: The EU proposes the new Stabilization and Association Process for countries of Southeast Europe
  • June 2000: The European Council states that all Stabilization and Association Process countries are potential candidates for EU membership
  • April 2001: Signature of the Stabilization and Association Agreement, the first in the region
  • June 2003: Thessaloniki Summit: EU perspective for the Western Balkans is confirmed
  • March 2004: The country applies for EU membership
  • April 2004: The SAA enters into force
  • December 2005: The status of candidate country is granted
  • October 2009: The Commission recommends the opening of accession negotiations
  • December 2009: Visa-free travel to the Schengen area for citizens of Republic of Macedonia
  • March 2012: High Level Accession Dialogue with the Commission launched
  • April 2013: Ad hoc Commission Report on good neighborly relations and the implementation of EU-related reforms

Author: Marko Markovski

 

[1] Arbitration Commission of the Peace Conference on Yugoslavia, Opinion No. 6.28 Macedonia. 29

[2] Bulletin of the European Communities, No. 6/1992; pp.8-9 (bookshop.europa.eu)

[3] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-13-890_en.htm

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macedonia_naming_dispute