The EU tried to reduce deep tensions in FYROM, but its efforts are still complicated by Greek concerns over the country’s name.
The EU has played a central role in stabilising the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) since the country’s Macedonian and Albanian populations came close to war in 2001. Although this previously included military and police deployments, it has since 2005 involved mainly diplomacy and aid coordinated by an EU Special Representative (EUSR). The EUSR has worked closely with NATO, the OSCE and US representatives. The EU’s approach to FYROM is complicated by Greece’s insistence that it drop its claim to the name “Republic of Macedonia”. Athens sees this as an implicit challenge to its sovereignty over its own province of Macedonia and has blocked FYROM’s progress towards EU and NATO membership while the dispute continues.
Although there was no high-profile crisis in 2010, FYROM’s overall stability remained uncertain. The EUSR and his diplomatic counterparts in Skopje issued strongly worded warnings about the government’s need to honour agreements with the Albanian population. However, the EU expressed some optimism that police reform, a key plank of inter-ethnic reconciliation, was making progress. Relations between the government and opposition parties of all ethnic affiliations were tense, with government projects – including an extremely costly plan to beautify the capital – a source of constant criticism. The EU devoted €36.3 million in pre-accession assistance funds towards transition assistance and institution building programmes. An effort to break the deadlock with Greece on the name issue in October failed, despite a call by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy for progress.
A new EU Head of Delegation will take on the EUSR’s tasks in 2011. The chances of FYROM’s government making significant advances towards resolving its internal and external challenges are reducing ahead of elections in 2012. While the name dispute has not prevented the EU from taking a lead role inside FYROM, the range of outstanding tensions is a serious concern.