What´s in a name

14 April 2008

What´s in a name

Language and the age-old issue of its name are still slowing Macedonia's progress towards EU membership, says Erik Meijer.

Erik Meijer If, somewhere in the future all seven former Yugoslav states are part of the European Union, this will have been the result of seven different negotiation processes on seven different moments in time. Joint accession before Yugoslavia was dissolved would probably have been easier on everyone. Slovenia is now a member, Croatia will follow within several years, and the third to come should be Macedonia, which has been waiting for the opening of accession negotiations since 2005. At the beginning of 2009, I will present my next report, which I hope will focus solely on internal developments such as environmental care, independence of media, improving the rule of law and the fight against corruption, modernising the railways, equality of different faith groups and the freedom to negotiate for the unions. For this to happen, however, two of the most prominent barriers to accession, the controversy around the country's name and the internal conflict between the two biggest ethnic groups, will have to be solved.

We´re not there yet, but relations between the two major language communities have significantly improved since the armed conflict of 2001. The Ohrid Framework Agreement which followed this and, specifically, the agreements on qualified parliamentary majorities (the so-called Badinter majority) and governmental decentralisation are important building blocks for improving relations, but these are not yet entirely cordial, as the recent temporary boycott of parliament and short governmental crisis clearly show. It is in everybody's interest that the underlying problems are solved as soon as possible. Completely equal treatment of regional languages, including national governmental communication, is a vital symbol for complete equality of all citizens in a multi-ethnic state. Macedonia can see from the equally bilingual state of Belgium that postponing this unavoidable outcome will only lead to new unnecessary tensions.

Unfortunately most attention is still focussed on the name issue: to the candidate member state, the name ´Macedonia´ signifies a resistance movement to the Ottoman Empire, a Yugoslav republic and an independent country. For Greece, however, Macedonia plays an important part of its own history as well as the name of the region around the Greek city of Thessaloniki.

Greece has invested a great deal of capital in its northern neighbour and is the greatest proponent of accession of this country to the European Union (EU). It's an important step forward that Greece is no longer trying to replace the constitutional name - ´Republic of Macedonia´ - of its northern neighbour with the completely incomprehensible term ´FYROM´. Instead it wants to emphasise that this state does not encompass all of historical Macedonia but only the Slav and Albanese parts.

I have always resisted the idea that a state, and in particular a former communist state, should become a NATO member before it can enter the EU. In the case of Macedonia the refusal on 2 April to allow this country into NATO will influence its short-term chances of entering the EU. The postponement of the vote on my report to the next plenary session, which was decided on 10 April, might, however enable Macedonia and Greece to come to an agreement, giving new impulse to an already lengthy accession process.

Erik Meijer, SP representative in the European Parliament, is rapporteur on FYROM's progress to EU membership.
Article first published in The Parliament magazine, 14 April 2008, issue 265

You are here