Yesterday, we looked at the priorities of the Greek EU Presidency over the next six months. Whilst the rotating Presidency of the Council is not as powerful as it used to be (part of its responsibilities were given to the position currently occupied by Mr Herman Van Rompuy), it’s still worth considering what has been left out of these priorities. For example, in contrast to the previous EU Presidency (held by Lithuania), EU enlargement and foreign policy have been given far less prominence.
The focus on promoting jobs and growth is understandable from a country that has seen over 25 percent of its economic output wiped out since the crisis began (particularly as Greece will be heading the Council during the crucial month of May 2014, when elections will be held for the European Parliament). However, what will this Presidency mean for the dispute between Greece and its “northern neighbour” (i.e. either the “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” or the “Republic of Macedonia”, depending on your position)?
The dispute concerns the use of the name “Macedonia” by the country bordering northern Greece. The Greek government believes that allowing its neighbour to call itself the “Republic of Macedonia” would leave Greece open to territorial disputes between Skopje and a region of Greece also called Macedonia. In response, Athens has blocked Skopje’s membership of NATO and the EU until the dispute can be resolved.
Our last post on this topic became quite heated, with hundreds of comments sent in to the Macedonian Foreign Minister, Nikola Poposki. We wanted to take a more constructive approach with our follow-up, so we again asked Minister Poposki to come back and respond. We started by asking him whether, given the strength of emotion on display in our comment thread, he still believed that his country could resolve its differences with its neighbours (including Greece and Bulgaria) and eventually join the EU.
Next, we took a question from Paul, who wanted to know exactly how it benefits existing EU Member States to have new countries like FYROM / Macedonia join the EU:
What’s in it for me? What is the benefit to me, a tax-paying EU citizen (by default) by allowing [new countries] to join?
We had asked a similar question to the Albanian Foreign Minister in an earlier post, but what would be Poposki’s reaction?
Finally, we had a comment sent in from from Elkhan from Azerbaijan, who doesn’t think enlargement should be a priority for the EU right now:
I don’t think that EU should seriously consider any new member in its current economic situation. In my opinion, the EU must first try to eliminate the internal economic and regulatory problems of existing EU members, unifying or at least synchronizing its internal rules. Regarding the “Eastern Partnership”, I don’t think that any of the [potential] membership countries will able to respond to all EU standards within 10 years. At the same time, the EU must continue to work with these countries in order to assist in the acceleration of integration policies. I wish to see the EU as a strong union, but right now it looks more like a bubble.
How would Minister Poposki respond?
Could the Greek EU Presidency lead to positive developments in the dispute between Athens and Skopje? Particularly as the two countries have strong economic and business ties, despite the political tensions? Or, given that the Greek Presidency will coincide with the May 2014 European Parliament elections, should Athens focus instead on an agenda of jobs and growth? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.