OPINION

Time line for the name dispute

On Sunday, the citizens of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will vote for a new government with two major objectives: entry into NATO and the European Union. For this to happen, however, the following must first be taken into account: 1) FYROM’s participation in NATO and the European Union will ensure unity within the country, protect it from external threats and contribute to the country’s economic development and prosperity. 2) The country needs Greece’s support, because a unanimous invitation is required by all the member states of both NATO and the EU. 3) Athens has changed its stance of the past 15 years – that FYROM’s name should not contain the word Macedonia in any form – and now accepts a composite name. 4) If the current Greek administration, which profited from its unwavering stance in Bucharest, does not agree with any of FYROM’s proposals, it will be much harder for a subsequent administration to show any flexibility on the issue. 5) During the crucial second half of 2008, France, which supported Greece in Bucharest, will be in command of the EU’s rotating presidency and will have an important say in whether FYROM will be invited to join the bloc, a decision expected in October. 6) US President George W. Bush, who rallied for FYROM’s accession to NATO, will want to close the issue of the alliance’s expansion before the end of his presidency and, if possible, well before the US elections in November. Although NATO and the USA would like to see a decision reached by July 9 so that FYROM can join Albania and Croatia in the accession process, the time line mentioned above is highly unrealistic. It would also be a huge mistake if the groundwork needed for fruitful negotiations was sacrificed toward the end of meeting these deadlines. It will be an even graver mistake if, under pressure to meet this date, UN special envoy Matthew Nimetz were to demand immediate results from FYROM before a new government is formed. A well-prepared negotiation effort that would unfold gradually over the next three months has much better chances of success. This will allow for the right balance to be found within both Greece and FYROM – especially FYROM, which is currently experiencing the type of extremism often seen in pre-election periods. Whoever is elected to government on Sunday should be given a fair amount of time to prepare its citizens for an honest settlement, something that Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou and both main parties of the left have already done in Greece.