Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Macedonia Should Understand What Good Neighbourly Relations Mean

Adelina Marini, October 8, 2012

The pressure over Macedonia for reforms is growing not only on behalf of the European Commission, which has decided to fill in the vacuum that formed by the waiting of a solution to the name dispute with Greece in order for the real accession talks to begin, but on behalf of other neighbouring countries as well, especially Bulgaria. If until recently under the spotlight was mainly Greece, which vetoed Macedonia's beginning of accession negotiations with the EU after it received a candidate status in 2005, Bulgaria too is beginning to show nervousness because of the ongoing small but not harmless manifestations against the common history of the two nations. The latest example in this regard was the organised by Macedonia exhibition in Brussels, titled "A Thousand Years of Writing Tradition in Macedonia", which evoked sharp reactions on behalf of Bulgarian historians and MEPs from various political groups. In the end of the day, the title of the exhibition was changed to 'Medieval Manuscripts".

It was this case that provoked Bulgarian MEP from the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament and former Foreign Minister of Bulgaria (2005-2009) to call for a Bulgarian strategy to be taken up to a European level for the relations with Macedonia. In an interview with euinside, Mr Kalfin explained the need of such a strategy with the lack of understanding. According to him, Macedonia was not aware what precisely does the term "good neighbourly relations" mean and it has to be explained to the country in a "European language". Moreover, the understanding of this term should be a main element of the negotiating process. In the words of the former top diplomat of Bulgaria, who yet as a minister said that Macedonia should be tabled conditions, the European partners did not understand very well what are Bulgaria's issues with its Western neighbour and that these problems need better explanation. Macedonia should know that there is no way for it to move forward even if negotiations with the EU begin, unless it has understood what good neighbourly relations mean.

At the moment, the government in Sofia is developing an overall strategy for Bulgaria's relations with its neighbours. Although the strategy will not be devoted solely to Macedonia but aims to create durable foundations of the Bulgarian policies toward the neighbouring countries in the Balkans, Skopje is obviously foreseeing some latent threat against Macedonian interests. This can clearly be seen in the questions, asked to Mr Nickolay Mladenov, Bulgaria's foreign minister, in his first ever interview for a Macedonian medium, the Grazdanski magazine.

"Question: What will for Macedonia mean the strategy for the relations with the neighbours, which you announced recently? How should your words be understood when presenting the initiative that, 'in order to receive Bulgaria's support for the EU and NATO, the neighbours have to prove that they want constructively, responsibly and genuinely to walk the path Bulgaria walked' and that you would not allow someone to interfere in the Bulgarian history?

N. Mladenov: [...] I believe that the region has no other alternative in the future but the European integration. In this moment, we want to see how exactly this future will look like. We believe that the most important thing is new and modern infrastructure to appear in the Balkans in order to boost the economy, to ensure cooperation in energy, defence, etc. We want to see who of our neighbours think the same way as us. Who of them are ready to work for these common goals and who prefer to deal with symbolic politics rather then improving live on the Balkans together. We know that the path toward European integration is tough and will get tougher. In Bulgaria people ask themselves - is our neighbours' desire to move forward genuine toward a more integrated Europe? We have walked our path, we want to support our neighbours on that path as well, but we need to know whether they are ready to walk it.

Question: Special focus in Macedonia caused your statement that with the strategy, in fact, Bulgaria has to formulate 'red lines that it will not retreat from in its policy towards the neighbours'. The dilemma is whether with this Bulgaria is officially becoming a second Greece on Macedonia's path toward NATO and the EU?

N. Mladenov: [...] 20 years ago Bulgaria was first to recognise Macedonia's independence - during the yugoembargo and the Greek blockade, we provide Macedonia with access to our ports. This is why people in Bulgaria today ask: why in Skopje they are always looking for a reason to underline their differences with Bulgaria instead of looking for what connects us? For every country that wants to be part of the EU, relations with its neighbour member states must be a priority. The citizens of Macedonia have an interest in your country moving forward, we, your neighbours, have even bigger interest this to happen".

The issue is present, although not as a main one, in the high level accession dialogue (HLAD), launched by the European Commission earlier this year with the aim to maintain the reforms momentum in Skopje. During the last high level meeting on September 17 in Skopje, in the end of a two-page document, it is written that Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and Commissioner Stefan Fule (of enlargement) reiterated how important good neighbourly relations are with all neighbours. Probably, this issue will be more specifically outlined in the progress report for Macedonia the Commission will publish on Wednesday (October 10).

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