Naming the solution

Few issues have been more derided or misunderstood by the international community than the name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM); and yet, at times, this issue has dominated bilateral relations, elicited huge popular demonstrations and greatly influenced Greek domestic politics. Since the signing of the 1995 Interim Accord, bilateral relations have normalized and improved impressively, especially on the economic front, though the name dispute has remained unresolved. More recently, the relative calm in bilateral relations seems to have been disturbed after Skopje (unlike Athens) rejected outright the set of proposals by UN Special Envoy Matthew Nimetz that included the term «Republika Makedonija-Skopje» for international use (and also addressed cultural and identity issues). FYROM’s Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski has complained publicly that for over eight months no Greek officials have met with their counterparts from FYROM. More seriously, Greece’s Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis sternly declared that «given the circumstances, at least from Greece’s side, there is no perspective for the European path of this country to continue»; and the pages of Kathimerini carried a headline declaring «Veto for Skopje is [a] given» (Sunday, September 4). Thus emerges the question of whether we are witnessing the makings of yet another crisis integrally related to the Macedonian name dispute. The view from Skopje appears confident; perhaps a little too confident. They believe that time has been on their side, with the unofficial use of the term «Macedonia» by the world’s mass media almost ubiquitous by now. Over 100 states have opted for the country’s constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia, for use in bilateral relations. Also, a conclusion seems to have been reached in Skopje (in a rather paradoxical manner) that the political strength of Greece’s government allows for further concessions on its part. However, what is underestimated is that no Greek government can ever accept Skopje’s current negotiating position for the international use of their constitutional name and the choice of another term by Athens for use only in bilateral relations. From a Greek perspective, this would amount to a complete capitulation and unconditional surrender and would without any doubt have detrimental political ramifications. From an international perspective, what makes this fact interesting is that Greece holds veto power over FYROM’s attempt to join NATO (probably in 2007) and especially over the new republic’s efforts to become a candidate country and eventually begin accession negotiations with the European Union. The name issue will thus inevitably come to the forefront once again, though with what intensity and consequences remains to be seen. These will largely be decided by the signals sent by the international community and, especially, by the political choices made in Athens, Skopje and Brussels. At this point, three scenarios appear most likely: (1) Following the European Commission’s recommendation on whether FYROM should be awarded candidate status in November 2005 (widely expected to be positive) and before the European Council’s meeting in December that will reach a final decision, Athens threatens to veto FYROM’s European perspective unless a mutually acceptable solution is reached on the name issue. This is a high-risk, high-stakes strategy. If it succeeds, Athens will have triumphantly resolved, in the space of a few weeks, an issue that has defeated the efforts of countless decision makers for over a decade. It could, however, also backfire in a serious manner. It is doubtful that Skopje’s government could survive for long after such an outcome (given countless recent maximalist declarations). Hence, prospects that it would accept such an agreement are rather poor, though not entirely non-existent. Furthermore, most EU states might be disappointed with Athens’s strategy and perhaps follow Poland’s recent example of unilaterally recognizing FYROM under its constitutional name. (2) FYROM becomes an EU candidate state and later enters NATO under its current, interim name. This scenario involves the least friction, since Athens and Skopje have demonstrated since 1995 their willingness to «live» with the term FYROM that is used in all international organizations. However, it must also be stressed that in such an instance Athens must accept that it will lose (probably forever) any negotiating power to alter FYROM into an acceptable permanent name. At the same time, unilateral recognitions of FYROM (for bilateral purposes) will eventually involve most states in the world, including all other EU members with the exception of Cyprus, thus rendering the name dispute in the long run a moot issue. (3) A third scenario involves Greece welcoming FYROM’s candidate status under its provisional name, but at the same time managing to insert into December’s European Council conclusions language to the effect that the name dispute must be resolved before accession negotiations begin. Such an outcome would first of all buy time for all actors involved. FYROM’s current administration will most likely call for elections in the spring and, given its success on the European front, probably win handsomely. As a result, any new negotiations would be conducted by a government with a full four years ahead in office that might also expect to manage an additional 400-500 million euros in EU aid as a result of FYROM becoming a candidate state. At the same time, any compromise on the name issue would be accurately presented by a strong government to its domestic public as the fulfillment of a necessary condition that would allow the country’s accession to the EU and hence its firm anchoring to the great project of European integration. It also has to be taken into account that an agreement with Greece would only involve the name used in international organizations, would probably also include the term «Macedonia» (Athens having publicly reversed its position that was in effect since 1992 by accepting Nimetz’s proposals as a basis for a solution), would not require the changing of FYROM’s constitutional name and would furthermore not preclude additional unilateral recognitions. In other words, any compromise from Skopje’s perspective would be rather small given the gradual abandonment of more stringent conditions and demands by Greece. However, it would almost certainly suffice to appease Athens and secure FYROM’s European path, thus contributing substantially to regional stability and prosperity. Although it is impossible to forecast at this point with accuracy which scenario will prevail, what is certain is that the next few months will witness yet another turning point in the saga of the Macedonian name dispute. (1) Dr Aristotle Tziampiris is lecturer in international relations at the University of Piraeus, a member of the Scientific Council of the Defense Analysis Institute (IAA) and Research Fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). The views expressed above are personal.