European Stability Initiative - ESI - 19 July 2018, 17:40


10 July 2010

Breaking the Macedonian deadlock - the mystery of Belgian politics and the enlargement debate in Brussels

Dear friends of ESI,

A matter of trust – a proposal for breaking the Macedonia deadlock

Nikola Gruevski Macedonian and Greek flags Giorgos Papandreou

Nikola Gruevski – Giorgos Papandreou

A few weeks ago we made a simple proposal on our website how to break one of the most important deadlocks undermining the stabilisation of the Western Balkans and address the dispute between Greece and its northern neighbour, the Republic of Macedonia. This has triggered a lot of interest and debate in regional media.

The basic idea is simple. Although officials across the EU, and even some in Skopje, believe that the current Greek government of George Papandreou would like to see a solution to the name dispute - and although an intense effort of bilateral talks is currently under way – overall trust in the Greek political establishment outside of Greece remains limited.

Most politicians in Athens realise that they have a vital interest in Macedonia's stability. Athens is also in favour of Balkan enlargement. It does not want to be used by those in the EU who have an interest in stopping Balkan enlargement for good. And yet the Greek government is under serious domestic pressure to obtain a compromise on the name and it has committed itself to seek a change in the constitutional name of its neighbour.

One day soon his battles will be left to historians again …

Front page of Dnevnik (18 June 2010) showing the headline of the proposal

While most Europeans find the Greek position puzzling, if not irrational, hopes in Skopje that the EU will put pressure on Athens to change its mind are unrealistic. In fact, to those in EU capitals who prefer a slowing down of the enlargement process the fact that Macedonia, a Western Balkan front runner and candidate, is stuck is even welcome.

Leaders in Skopje realize that joining the EU will require a compromise on the name. It is clear that any constitutional change needs broad support in Skopje. There will almost certainly also be a referendum in Macedonia. Yet even those who might just be prepared to make a concession on the name of the country would do so only under the condition that it actually ensures the country's EU accession. To change the name for the mere promise of starting talks with an uncertain outcome at this moment is unlikely to be accepted.

Greece will only open the road to EU accession if Macedonia changes its constitution. And yet no Greek government can guarantee Skopje that any concession made today – to unlock the door to EU accession talks – will actually stick once a different Greek government comes to power in a few years time.

One day soon his battles will be left to historians again …

One day soon his battles will be left to historians again …

How can this circle be squared? It can be done through a constitutional amendment in Skopje that changes the name of the country today, allowing Athens to support the start of EU accession talks later this year, but that also foresees that the change will only enter into force on the day Macedonia actually joins the EU.

The constitutional change could be simple, a single paragraph that says something to the effect of:

"All references to the Republic of Macedonia in this constitution will be replaced by a reference to XX (a compromise name) on the day this country joins the European Union."

If for some reason Skopje never joins the EU, it will never have to change its name.

If future Greek governments (or other Balkan neighbours) find new reasons to block Macedonia's accession in the future (there are no less than 70 veto points where unanimity in the EU is required before a candidate actually joins the club) the name will not yet have changed prematurely.

On the other hand, the constitutional provision will guarantee that once Macedonia is a member, the name change will become effective immediately and automatically. It can also be written into Macedonia's accession treaty.

This solution would allow both countries and their leaders to claim a victory today. The government in Skopje will turn Greece into a genuine ally (based on mutual interest) to facilitate its timely accession. Athens can argue that it is only opening the path to accession in return for genuine and lasting constitutional change: something no previous Greek government has achieved.

What would make this deal even more attractive – and a referendum on the constitutional amendment even more likely to succeed in Skopje – would be a parallel Greek promise to allow Macedonia to join NATO under the name FYROM (the name under which Macedonia joined the UN) once the constitutional changes have been passed.

Thessaloniki summit 2003 - when Greece was helping the Balkans

Thessaloniki summit 2003 - when Greece was helping the Balkans

This is still a difficult compromise for both countries. If it is adopted, however, it will end a major deadlock and send a tremendously beneficial signal to the whole of the Balkans.

Greece would be part of the solution in the region, not a source of problems. Macedonia could once again become a pioneer and leader helping the rest of the region, as it has done in the visa liberalisation process, and the first to begin full accession talks before Croatia joins the EU.

For more on this please go here. We are also interested in hearing your opinion on our Facebook page.


Understanding Belgium

Bart de Wever Manneken Pis Elio Di Rupo

Bart de Wever – Brussels symbol Manneken Pis – Elio Di Rupo

On 1 July Belgium, one of the EU's founding members and one of the richest countries in Europe today, assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union. What is the likely impact of this on the South East European enlargement process?

To help answer this question, and to provide a guide through the maze of Belgian institutions and coalition politics, ESI has produced a new analytical manual on the Belgian enlargement debate.

The manual, produced by ESI analysts in Brussels and Berlin, and coordinated by Alexandra Stiglmayer, together with Angela Longo and Martin Chatel, looks at different institutions, Belgian constitutional reforms of the past 40 years, and recent elections. It describes the key people dealing with enlargement, the main political actors from the federal and regional levels, the Belgian media, think-tanks based in Brussels, NGOs and academia.

This is part of ESI's efforts to broaden the debate on EU enlargement, supported generously by Erste Foundation in Vienna. For more manuals on debates in other European countries please go here.

Olivier Chastel Jean de Ruyt

Defining Belgian policy on enlargement: Olivier Chastel, State secretary for EU affairs – Jean de Ruyt, Ambassador to the EU


Life is complicated …

Belgian domestic politics is famously complicated. Many foreigners spend years in the European capital working on European issues and are still hard pressed to explain the complex relationship between regions and communities and actual national policy making. How many foreigners who work in Brussels really understand the dispute over the electoral district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, which, by bringing down the coalition, ensured that the current EU presidency starts under a care-taker government? And how many foreigners resident in Brussels can explain how the first four articles of the Belgian constitution, which go as follows, are implemented:

Article 1
Belgium is a federal State composed of Communities and Regions.

Article 2
Belgium is composed of three Communities: The French Community, the Flemish Community and the German-speaking Community.

Article 3
Belgium is composed of three regions: The Walloon Region, the Flemish Region and the Brussels Region.

Article 4
Belgium has four linguistic regions: The French-speaking region, the Dutch-speaking region, the bilingual region of Brussels-Capital and the German-speaking region. (…)

(Depending on whether the language in which the Constitution is written is French, Dutch or German, the respective Community and Regions are mentioned first.)

Some interesting facts about Belgian politics are also food for thought for those who promote the "Europeanisation" of the Balkans. These include the following:

Brussels: Europe's third richest region

Brussels: Europe's third richest region

De Wever: “Well, he is not lazy, a profiteer, bad and corrupt like all the Walloons – just a bit Socialist.” Di Rupo: "He is not that nasty – just a bit Flemish." Pierre Kroll, Le Soir, 16 June 2010

De Wever: "Well, he is not lazy, a profiteer, bad and corrupt like all the Walloons – just a bit Socialist." Di Rupo: "He is not that nasty – just a bit Flemish."
Pierre Kroll, Le Soir, 16 June 2010

For much more on Belgium, on Belgian attitudes to further enlargement towards the Balkans and Turkey, and for a detailed overview of key institutions in the European capital, please read the whole manual.

Meanwhile, the whole ESI team wants to wish you the very best for the summer. We look forward to hearing from you soon. In the meantime please follow us on our website, become a fan and follows us on Facebook, on Twitter or on ESI's Rumeli observer blog.

[1] Eurostat, GDP per capita in power purchasing standard (2009)

[2] Based on power purchasing standard. Eurostat Newsrelease, Regional GDP per inhabitant in 2007, 18 February 2010

[3] Accord de coopération entre l'Etat fédéral, les Communautés et les Régions, relatif à la représentation du Royaume de Belgique au sein du Conseil de Ministres de l'Union européenne, 8 mars 1994, modifié par l'accord de coopération du 13 février 2003 (M.B. 25.02.2003)

[4] Website of the Belgian government

Many best wishes,


Gerald Knaus

© European Stability Initiative - ESI 2018
10 July 2010, 00:00