Byzantine Church of St Jovan Kaneo, Lake Ohrid. Photo: Alan Grant
Byzantine Church of St Jovan Kaneo, Lake Ohrid. Photo: Alan Grant

Macedonia counts as one of the EU's biggest foreign policy success stories. When violent conflict broke out between ethnic Albanian rebels and the Macedonian security forces in 2001, the EU, backed by the United States, was quick to intervene. Sound diplomacy and a small military contingent made a crucial contribution, preventing Macedonia from sliding into civil war. The "Ohrid Agreement", signed on 13 August 2001, provided for the disarmament of the Albanian forces in exchange for more rights for the Albanian minority and their improved representation in the Macedonian state apparatus.

The years following the signing of the Ohrid Agreement brought tremendous progress in two major respects. First, courageous political compromise by both ethnic Macedonian and Albanian leaders led to the successive implementation of the agreement and helped to build a solid majority – among both ethnic groups – in favour of its provisions. Second, Macedonia made major steps towards European integration. Only two and a half years after the end of the conflict, Macedonia applied for EU membership. In December 2005, after a positive opinion by the European Commission, it was granted EU candidate status.

The process of Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic integration, however, has since stalled. In April 2008 Greece vetoed Macedonia's accession to NATO, although Skopje had met the criteria for membership. Greece holds that the term Macedonia refers to the historical Kingdom of Macedon and that its use in a neighbouring country's name would usurp an essential part of exclusively "Greek" culture and heritage. It also contends that the use of the name Macedonia implies territorial ambitions on a northern Greek province that bears the same name.

In its latest enlargement strategy document (14 October 2009), the European Commission has recommended to start EU accession negotiations with Macedonia. The European Council, however, has delayed the decision into 2010.

ESI has conducted in-depth research to understand the underlying socio-economic dynamics of the violent confrontation in 2001, leading to a background paper (The Other Macedonian Conflict) and a mayor study on the political economy of interethnic relations in Macedonia (Ahmeti's Village). ESI has subsequently taken stock of Macedonia's European integration agenda.

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