FYROM’s ticket to the EU

Since early September, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has been aware of the latest proposal by UN special mediator Matthew Nimetz over its use of the name «Macedonia» and has had ample time to plan its strategy regarding Greece’s reaction. (Greece believes that the name «Macedonia» conceals designs on the Greek province of Macedonia and objects to FYROM being recognized under that name in international organizations.) The government in Skopje has laid low on the issue, seeing no cause to escalate the tension and provoke Athens, since the UN mediator’s «new ideas» are the icing on their cake. Skopje is in need of assistance from the international community ahead of a report to be released on November 9 by the European Commission as to FYROM’s suitability for accession talks. Washington, which is actually behind the initiative, has hastened to provide that assistance. FYROM’s leaders believe that in partly accepting Nimetz’s proposal, they are refuting Athens’s argument regarding their intransigence, by appearing as willing to enter into talks in order to resolve the name issue. Therefore, there would be no reason for the issue to remain open or to constitute an obstacle to the EU accession process. The European Commission’s report, due shortly, and a later decision to begin accession procedures, are a matter of life and death since FYROM has everything invested in its future in Europe. At such a critical time, the Americans are making their own contribution, via Nimetz’s proposal, to efforts to hitch this weak state – but one that is vital to Balkan security and stability – to the European wagon train. About this time last year, when the FYROM leadership was in a difficult position over the local government referendum establishing a balance between Slav-Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, the White House hastened to recognize the country under its constitutional name «Republic of Macedonia» just three days ahead of the referendum, creating a mood of euphoria and averting a political crisis which could have destabilized the country. Now that Skopje is once more in need of assistance, the US is offering Vlado Buckovski’s government a valuable tool. Western diplomats in Skopje are claiming that the UN mediator’s not so surprising proposal – according to sources Skopje had informed Athens of Nimetz’s latest effort in mid-September – was not aimed so much at facilitating the process of finding a solution to the name problem, which most analysts believe will continue to drag on for some years to come. They claim its real purpose was to boost FYROM’s negotiating position with the EU. Ten years after the signing of the Dayton accord, the US is itching to be done with the Balkans and US Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns is currently touring the region. The third most senior State Department official has made no bones about his support for Skopje at Athens’s expense, telling a Skopje daily that it would be a «shame» for Greece to veto FYROM’s entry to NATO and the EU. FYROM is one of the main pillars of the international community’s effort to bring about stability in the western Balkans, hence its apparent determination to help efforts that boost its chances to enter the EU, efforts being led by the Americans who in any case make the rules. Western diplomats do not believe that perpetuating the conflict with Greece over the name «Macedonia» is a factor that could destabilize the country as long as it presents itself – and is recognized and referred to by most nations – as the «Republic of Macedonia.» They believe that if its leaders in any way negotiate the name on which its people have founded their national identity, it could create an uproar within the Slav-Macedonian population – the ethnic Albanians are indifferent – with unforeseeable consequences. In Skopje, the government feels it has a strong advantage over Greece and believes that if Athens vetoes their candidacy for the EU, particularly at this time when the Kosovo issue is entering a crucial phase, there could be an international outcry against Athens. Whatever indications that they could be induced to talk some more about the name and make it easier for Athens to compromise are seen by foreign diplomats as tactical moves rather than as movement around a «red line» that rules out any negotiation over their constitutional name.