Macedonia in the EU and NATO: The importance of Bulgarian support


Republic of Macedonia initiated its European path just after its independence from Yugoslavia in 1992. Since then the country has signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement in 2001, and in 2005, it became a candidate country for EU membership with the perspective to open negotiations and finish the precession process. In parallel, Republic of Macedonia has also nourished its relationship with NATO, where respectively in 1995 it became a NATO partner in the program Partnership for peace, and finally in 2008, the country was offered an invitation to join NATO. However, the path to Euro Atlantic integrations has been delayed, due to the name dispute that the country has with the Republic of Greece. Concerning the European integration process, the country received a recommendation from the European Commission in October 2009 to open negotiations towards full membership, but the European Council voted against, mainly because of the Greek veto. The same situation happened in the NATO Summit in Varsava 2008, where Greece put veto upon the invitation.

The obstruction of the Euro Atlantic integration process, represented a breach to the Interim Accord between Macedonia and Greece, and was brought to trial in front of the International Court of Justice, where the Court ruled in favor of Macedonia. In spite of the Court’s decision in 2011, the Greek positions remained unchanged and the decision lacked legal repercussions upon the abovementioned organizations.

Nevertheless, other neighboring countries including Republic of Bulgaria have generally been favorable and supportive of Macedonia’s efforts to join these international organizations. In fact, it can be seen from the launching of the Bulgarian Presidency that one of its priorities is to equip each member of the six Balkan countries with an individual action plan to achieve EU membership. However, taking into consideration the Commission’s progress reports for Macedonia of 2016 it can be deduced that Bulgaria puts great accent on maintaining good mutual neighborly relations with Macedonia, in particular with regard to the issue of differences in interpretation of history, minority protection etc., for what both countries have signed the good neighborhood agreement in 2017. In base of this, many questions arise in relation to Bulgaria’s support for Macedonia’s EU and NATO integrations. For example, what will be the outcome and the prospects of the mutual agreement? Will Macedonia finally join the EU and NATO after solving the name dispute with Greece? and many other questions. All these questions will be the in the focus of the proposed paper.

1.Macedonia in EU and NATO: the name dispute with Greece:

The membership of Republic of Macedonia into the European Union and NATO is mainly blocked because of the name dispute with Greece, followed by the concerns of Greece about their historical entity from one side and Macedonia’s self- determination as people and ethnicity on the other side. In accordance for us to understand the name issue between Macedonia and Greece, in this part will be presented the relations between these countries after Macedonia gained independence.

1.1 The formal beginning of the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece:

In 1992 (a year after Republic of Macedonia gained independence) the International Monetary Fund, The World Bank Group and International Conference of the Former Yugoslavia, agreed to recognize and accept Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name, but until Macedonia resolves the name dispute with Greece, they must use the temporary reference “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.  In 1993, Spain, France and the United Kingdom made the same terminological proposal, in accordance to enable the Republic of Macedonia to join the United Nations. This proposal was circulated in the same year (1993) by the United Nations Secretary General, but yet, rejected by both side in the dispute. Greece pointed out that admission “prior to meeting the necessary prerequisites, and in particular abandoning the use of the denomination ‘Republic of Macedonia’, would perpetuate and increase friction and tension and would not be conducive to peace and stability in an already troubled region". On the other hand, the President of Republic of Macedonia, Kiro Gligorov, stated that the reference in the resolution that had just been adopted to “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” carried no implication whatsoever that the State concerned had any connection with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and that it merely reflected the historic fact that it had been in the past a republic of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

After the intense diplomatic pressure upon both countries, on 7 April 1993, The Republic of Macedonia become the 181st member of the United Nations, as “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” referred for all purposes. Yet, at this stage, Greece did not accept the UN terminology and also did not recognize Republic of Macedonia under any name even though the six key countries of the European Community (Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) had accepted and recognized Republic of Macedonia under its UN designation. By the end of December all the member countries of the European Community recognized the Republic according to the UN designation.

1.2 Interim accord:

After Macedonia joined the UN, the relationship between Greece and Macedonia have deteriorated. Two years after Macedonia becomes part of the UN, in 1995 an agreement was set between Greece and Macedonia, well known as Interim accord.

The Interim accord between Macedonia and Greece is based on several sections, such as: friendly relations and confidence- building measures; human and cultural rights; international, multilateral and regional institutions; treaty relations; and economic, commercial, environmental and legal relations between these countries. We will analyze and present a few articles form the Interim accord connected to the name issue between Greece and Macedonia.

In the section referred to the friendly relations and confidence- building measures, it is clearly set up that Greece shall recognize Macedonia as an independent and sovereign country, also that both of the countries shall, at an early date, establish diplomatic relations at an agreed level, with the ultimate goal of relations at ambassadorial level (Article 1/1- IA). In this section it is also confirmed that Macedonia and Greece agree that neither of them will assert or support territorial claims or claims for a change of their existing frontier (Article 4- IA). Greece and Macedonia shall take practical measures so that the difference about the name will not obstruct or interfere with the normal trade and commerce between them and third parties (Article 5/2- IA). Macedonia removed the Vergina Sun from its flag and allegedly irredentist clauses from its constitution, and both countries committed to continue with the negotiations on the naming issue under UN auspices (Article 7/1,2,3- IA).

In the section referred to the international, multilateral and regional institutions, stands that Greece agrees not to object to the application or the membership of Macedonia in international, multilateral and regional organizations and institutions, as long as Macedonia uses its temporary reference- “The Formal Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (Article 11/1- IA).

“This Interim Accord shall remain in force until superseded by a definitive agreement, provided that after seven years either Party may withdraw from this Interim Accord by a written notice, which shall take effect 12 months after its delivery to the other Party”.

1.3 Continuation of the name dispute:   

Unfortunately, the name issue was not solved in the following years. There were several name suggestions, such as "New Macedonia", "Upper Macedonia", "Slavo- Macedonia", "Macedonia (Skopje)", "Vardar Republic", "Republic of Skopje" and so on, but none of them was accepted by both sides and a compromise has not been achieved.

The relations between these two countries got even worst at the NATO’s summit on 3 April 2008, on which Greece vetoed the NATO membership for Macedonia. “We have said that no solution (to the name dispute) means no invitation (for Macedonia)” said the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni.

2. The name dispute in front of the International Court of Justice:

After Greece vetoed the NATO membership of Republic of Macedonia, in November 2008, proceedings from Macedonia against Greece were instituted in front of the UN’s International Court of Justice for "a flagrant violation of Greece's obligations under Article 11 of the Interim Accord signed by Macedonia and Greece on 13 September 1995". In one hand, Macedonia requested that the Court should adjudge and declare that Greece has violated the obligations under the provisions of the Interim Accord (Article 11/1- IA) and, in the other hand, Greece requested that the Court should find that the case does not fall within its jurisdiction and to reject it as inadmissible. The Court delivered its judgement on 5 December 2011.

2.1 The judgement of the International Court of Justice:

In December 2011, the International Court of Justice, issued its judgment in the case concerning Greece's actions to block the entry of the Republic of Macedonia in NATO.

In relation to the request of Greece that the Court should find that the case does not fall within its jurisdiction and to reject it as inadmissible, the International Court of Justice had declared that according to Article 21/2 any “difference or dispute” as to the “interpretation or implementation” of the Interim Accord falls within the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. On the other hand, in relation to the request of Macedonia that the Court should adjudge and declare that Greece has violated the obligations under the provisions of the Interim Accord (Article 11/1- IA), the International Court of Justice concludes that the Respondent (Greece) failed to comply with its obligation under Article 11/1, of the Interim Accord by objecting to the Applicant’s (Macedonia) admission to NATO at the Bucharest Summit.

As to possible remedies for the violation by Greece of its obligation under Article 11/1, of the Interim Accord, the Court found that a declaration that Greece had violated its obligation not to object to Macedonia’s admission to or membership in NATO was warranted and that such finding constituted appropriate satisfaction. The Court of Justice did not consider it necessary, to order to Greece (as Macedonia requested) to refrain from any future conduct that violated its obligation under Article 11/1, of the Interim Accord. The Court of Justice had explained that “as a general rule, there is no reason to suppose that a State whose act or conduct has been declared wrongful by the Court will repeat that act or conduct in the future, since its good faith must be presumed”. Apparently the judgement of the International Court of Justice did not grant to Macedonia that it will instruct Greece to refrain from similar actions in the future.

3. Diplomatic relations of Republic of Macedonia with the other Balkan countries (member countries of EU, and members of NATO):

Republic of Macedonia established full diplomatic relations with 167 countries. In the following part of this paper work we will investigate the diplomatic relations between Macedonia and a few, for us important, Balkan countries that are already members of EU and NATO.

3.1 Diplomatic relations with Republic of Bulgaria:

Republic of Bulgaria was actually the first country that recognized the independence and sovereignty of Republic of Macedonia on 15.01.1992, but the full diplomatic relations were established one year after on 31.12.1993. In the sign of good neighborly relations, Macedonia and Bulgaria have assigned the “Joint Declaration” on 22.02.1999, reaffirmed by joint memorandum signed on 22.01.2008 in Sofia, Bulgaria. Yet, on 31 October 2012, Bulgaria joins Greece in vetoing Macedonia’s EU talks, by the explanation that Bulgaria does not see Macedonia as ready to begin accession negotiations. In August 2017, Macedonia and Bulgaria have signed a friendship treaty in accordance to end the years of diplomatic wrangling and to boost Macedonia’s Euro- integration process.

3.2 Diplomatic relations with Republic of Croatia:

Republic of Croatia established its diplomatic relations with Republic of Macedonia on 30.03.1992 and so far they have a successful cooperation in the fields of defense, health, education and science, environment, culture and police. The active and open support of Croatia was established on 31.05.2013 in Ohrid, with the Agreement for Euro- Atlantic Partnership. After Croatia joined the EU, the bilateral relation between these two countries is performed within the frame of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) that is signed between Macedonia and the member states of the European Union.  

3.3 Diplomatic relations with Republic of Slovenia:

The diplomatic relations between Slovenia and Macedonia were first established on 17.03.1993 but Republic of Slovenia acknowledged Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name on 13.02.1992. These two countries have very close political and economic relations, and also, the bilateral relations and cooperation between them reflect friendship without any open issues and obstacles. The Republic of Slovenia strongly supports the independence and sovereignty of Republic of Macedonia, as well as, the Euro- integrative process. The successful cooperation between Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Slovenia is followed by 40 bilateral agreements between these two countries.

4. The Copenhagean criteria:

In the following part we will see the degree of readiness of Republic of Macedonia to join the EU according to the Copenhagean criteria, through the Commission Staff working document for 2016 Report for Republic of Macedonia. The Copenhagean criteria are actually the accession criteria that all candidate countries must satisfy in accordance to become a member state of the European Union. They refer to:

  • political criteria: democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
  • economic criteria: a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces.
  • administrative and institutional capacity to effectively implement the acquis and ability to take on the obligations of membership.

These criteria were established by the Copenhagen European Council in 1993 and strengthened by the Madrid European Council in 1995.

4.1 Commission Staff working document (2016) Report for Republic of Macedonia:

In the last working document of the Commission Staff for Republic of Macedonia, according to the political criteria it stands that Democracy and rule of law have been constantly challenged, due to state capture affecting the functioning of democratic institutions and key areas of society. The inter- ethnic situation of this country is rated as fragile and according to the reform of the public administration, the country was rated as moderately prepared. The juridical system of the country and the fight against corruption have some level of preparation according to this working document of the Commission Staff. In this part concerning the political criteria the best ratings refer to the protection of the human rights and the legislative and institutional framework which, as it stands in the working document, are largely in line with the European standards. In this part it is also emphasized the regional cooperation, standing that the country generally continues to maintain good relations with other enlargement countries and participated actively in regional initiatives.

According to the economic criteria, Republic of Macedonia its rated to have a good level of preparation in developing a functional economy market, but the economy itself has a moderate level of preparation to cope with competitive pressures and market forces in the European Union.

In regards of the ability of Republic of Macedonia to assume the obligation of the membership, it stands that the country is moderately prepared in most of the areas, such as competition, transport and energy.

5. The relations between Republic of Bulgaria and Republic of Macedonia:

5.1 Bulgaria and Macedonia in 2012 (The Bulgarian veto over Macedonia’s EU accession talks):

Republic of Bulgaria has joined Republic of Greece in vetoing the opening of EU accession talks with Republic of Macedonia in 2012, despite the positive recommendation by the European Commission, by claiming that Macedonia is “not ready” to start accession negotiations. In this context we will compare the “COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT” for Bulgaria for 2006 (just before Bulgaria joins the EU) and the “COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT” for Macedonia for 2012 (the year when Macedonia was vetoed by Bulgaria under the claim that Macedonia is not ready to join the EU).

5.1.1 The “COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT” for Bulgaria for 2006:

In the section referred as political criteria it stands that Bulgaria has made good progress in the field of public administration and is on the way to have an efficient state administration provided that the current path of reform is maintained, but also that the decentralization strategy aiming at further decentralizing powers and financial resources from the central to regional and municipal level has not been adopted. Also, the justice system, according to the Commission, has a limited progress in the terms of the quality and accountability of justice as well as regarding the institutional relations between the executive and the justice system. According to the Anti-corruption measures, Bulgaria made a certain progress in fighting corruption, but yet, the Commission claims, that Bulgaria needs to present a clear evidence of results in its fight against corruption, in particular high-level corruption. The protection and integration of the minorities in Bulgaria, according to this report, made some progress in the area of the protection and integration of the Roma minority, but substantial efforts are still needed to promote the social inclusion and integration of Roma into the Bulgarian society. Also, the Commission claims, that the living conditions need to improve and “Further efforts are needed to combat all forms of intolerance, particularly by fully applying existing legislation on broadcasting and other activities aiming to combat any form of racism, discrimination or xenophobia”.

In the section referred as economic criteria stands that Bulgaria has broadly maintained macroeconomic stability and advanced structural reforms. Also, the privatization process and the liberalization and restructuring of utilities EN 17 EN are well advanced. In the other hand, the Commission claims that, “The regulatory framework for the labour market needs to be made more flexible”.

In the section referred as commitments and requirements arising from the accession negotiations stands that Republic of Bulgaria reached a considerable degree of alignment with the acquis, but the Commission underlines six areas of serious concern and they are: setting up a proper integrated administration and control system in the agriculture, building-up of rendering collection and treatment facilities in line with the acquis on TSE and animal by-products, clearer evidence of results in investigating and prosecuting organized crime networks, more effective and efficient implementation of laws for the fight against fraud and corruption, intensified enforcement of anti-money laundering provisions and strengthened financial control for the future use of structural and cohesion funds, as well.

5.1.2 The “COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT” for Macedonia for 2012:

In the section referred as political criteria, stands the functioning of the parliament and political dialogue have been maintained and, also, the Parliament has consistently supported the accession process, including the High Level Accession Dialogue. Yet, the Commission requires efforts to develop the capacity of the parliament and, also, the political dialogue needs to be strengthened. In regard of the justice system, legislative and institutional safeguards are graded as in place, but further efforts are needed to guarantee independence and impartiality in practice. Progress has been made, notably in reducing the backlog of cases. According to the Anti-corruption measures, the Commission claimed that the legislative framework is in place and capacity has been strengthened slightly, but it also requires further efforts in regards of implementation of existing laws. In regards of the Human rights and the protection of minorities, the Commission claims that the civil and the political rights are broadly respected and some further progress was made, but also underlines that the ongoing reform of the prison system needs to be pursued.

In the section referred as economic criteria, the Commission claimed that the policy mix continued to be directed towards stability. Monetary conditions were supportive to growth, while taking into account the country’s policy of a de facto peg to the euro. Yet, the budgetary planning and the management of public expenditure have deteriorated markedly and the quality of public spending has remained weak and, also the Unemployment continues to be very high, in particular among the young, posing a persistent major policy challenge. Also, the trade integration with the EU is well advanced.

In the section referred as the ability to take the obligations of the membership, the Commission concluded that the country is prepared to start accession negotiations, underlining the requirement of further improvement in certain areas.

5.2 The “Program of the Republic of Bulgaria for the Precedency of the Council of the European Union”- “European Perspective and connectivity of the Western Balkans”:

From 01.01.2018 Republic of Bulgaria took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. One of the most important topic of the Bulgarian presidency will be the European perspective for the Western Balkans and the development of this region, under the motto of “United we stay strong”. For the sake of strengthening the cooperation between the countries of the western Balkans and the European Union, will be held a summit in Sofia on 17.05.2018. This summit will seek to:

  • reaffirm the EU's commitment towards its Western Balkans partners and reiterate the region's belonging to the European family;
  • strengthen links between the EU and the Western Balkans in infrastructure, digital and human connectivity;
  • work more closely together to tackle common challenges, such as security, migration, geopolitical developments and good neighborly relations.

In the “Program of the Republic of Bulgaria for the Precedency of the Council of the EU” are covered:

  • The priorities of the Bulgarian precedency of the Council of the EU, including: The Future of Europe and the Young People – Economic Growth and Social Cohesion, The European Perspective and Connectivity of the Western Balkans, The Security and Stability in a Strong and United Europe and The Digital Economy and Skills needed for the Future; and
  • The priorities of the Bulgarian precedency within the configurations of the Council of EU, including: General, Foreign, Economic and Financial Affairs Council; Justice and Home Affairs Council; Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council; Competitiveness Council; Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council; Agriculture and Fishers Council, Environment Council; and Educations, Youth, Culture and Sport Council.

In the part referring to the “European Perspective and connectivity of the Western Balkans” its emphasized that the European Union has a clear interest in stabile, secure and prosperous Western Balkan countries, where its rules and values are respected. This will be mainly achieved with a dialog, political will and decisive reforms by the Western Balkan countries. In regards to this, the Bulgarian precedency is giving a great importance on deepening regional cooperation and developing good neighborly relations. The deepening of the regional cooperation and the connectivity of the Western Balkan countries will be specified in the “Connectivity Agenda” in the highlights of transport, communications, energy, education and digital connectivity on the summit in Sofia.


As we can notice from this research paper work, one of the biggest obstacles for the accession of Republic of Macedonia in the European Union and NATO is the name dispute with Greece. The name dispute between these two countries exists for 26 years already, and it was followed by a lot of tensile relations between them. The fact that Macedonia and Greece had signed an Interim Accord and, yet, Greece made a flagrant violation of its obligations under Article 11, shows to us that Greece is definitely using its position in the EU and NATO to block Macedonia’s path in the EU and NATO and, also, to show up its supremacy position in the EU and NATO upon Macedonia, ever since Macedonia aspired to become part of EU and NATO.

This conclusion is getting confirmed, even more, with the judgement of the International Court of Justice, with which it is ruled that there was a flagrant violation of the Interim Accord from the Greek side. Yet, the International Court of Justice did not declare any possible remedies for the violation, but instead, the judgement is based on the expectations from the Court that Greece will not repeat that act or conduct in the future, since its good faith must be presumed. As we can notice from this topic, the judgement of the International Court of Rights also didn’t stop Greece from blocking Macedonia’s entry in EU and NATO. This part is very important because its giving us an answer to the question of why NATO and EU are ignoring this judgment? The answer lays in the omission of the remedies and the belief in good faith from the International Court of Justice, which makes this judgement more optional than mandatory. In a relation with these situations we can conclude that there is a huge possibility that after Macedonia changes its constitutional name, as a main demand in the name dispute, Greece will come up with some other demands, in accordance to show up supremacy upon Macedonia in the EU and NATO. Even more this is confirmed with the latest request from Greece, that Macedonia shall not only change its name but also shall make changes in its constitution. We can also conclude that Republic of Macedonia is maintaining some very good diplomatic relations with Republic of Bulgaria, Republic of Croatia and Republic of Slovenia since gaining its independence and they’ve always supported the independence and the sovereignty of Republic of Macedonia (except in 2012 from Republic of Bulgaria).  From the previous comparison of the Commission Staff working documents for Bulgaria (2006) and for Macedonia (2012), we can clearly conclude that Bulgaria had more less the same level of preparedness to join the EU as Macedonia had, when blocked by Bulgaria in 2012, by the claims that Macedonia is “not ready” to join EU.   

The Bulgarian Precedency is of a great importance, not only for Republic of Macedonia, but also for the entire Western Balkan countries, followed by the statement of Republic of Bulgaria that this will be the “Balkan precedency”. Each Balkan country expects help from Republic of Bulgaria in their Euro- integration process. Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Bulgaria have signed a “Treaty of good neighborly relations” which was strongly supported from the EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn who sad that “The ratification of Macedonian Parliament of the friendship treaty with Bulgaria is an important step into the right direction towards the country’s EU path. The treaty is also a milestone for good neighborly relations in the entire Western Balkans region!”. The successful development of the EU, which is based on cooperation between countries, should serve as an example in the Western Balkans, because а stronger regional cooperation increases the prospects for more rapid integration of the region into the EU.  Regional cooperation and good neighborly relations are essential for progress on the countries in respect to their European paths. We can clearly conclude, that the current position of the Republic of Macedonia in the Euro- Atlantic integrative process is like the myth of “Pandora”, and the only thing that left for Macedonia is the hope… the hope that Macedonia will get the necessary help and support by Bulgaria, the hope that Macedonia will finally join the EU and NATO...

Публикувано на 11 Май 2018 в 10:40 часа от
Ирена Манчева

Ключови думи:Republic of Macedonia in the EU and NATO, Name dispute with Greece, Judgment of the International Court of rights, Bulgarian Presidency

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