Let Macedonia into the EU and NATO

By: Caleb Herrin

The Republic of Macedonia.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Greece continues to block the entry of Macedonia into the European Union and NATO because of a territorial name claim that deals with Greece’s northern province, also called Macedonia. Other EU states should be putting pressure on Greece to allow The Republic of Macedonia to join, particularly with a resurgent Russia looking to reestablish control over former communist states.

The dispute over a name is hindering two million people from integrating into Europe, preventing a boost to their economy, and stalling improvement in their standard of living. To be clear, there is no actual border dispute between the two countries. Greece just does not want the world to recognize FYR Macedonia as the Republic of Macedonia, despite Macedonians efforts to integrate with the rest of Europe.

By not recognizing them as the Republic of Macedonia, Greece is betraying the values of the European Union and the stated goals of NATO. The EU was developed to prevent conflict and bloodshed between European nations, yet excluding Macedonia will only create more conflict within the region and threatens Macedonia’s sovereignty.

There are claims in Europe that Bulgaria is trying to indirectly annex Macedonia. Bulgaria is a member of the EU but has not yet joined the Schengen Area – the European free trade zone where people can travel freely without a passport. Nonetheless, Bulgarian citizens have significantly better access to the European job market, which is why many Macedonians, recognizing the benefits accrued to their eastern neighbors, are attaining Bulgarian citizenship. Hardliner voices in Sofia are using that fact to support irredentist claims to Macedonian territory. Leaving out Macedonia from the common market will only create more conflicts with its Balkan neighbors, who are already members of the EU.

History has shown that the more integrated European economies become, the less likely they are to engage in conflict.  Even if you doubt the future of the European Union, it is clear that there is still great value to incorporating Macedonia within Europe.

Macedonia has continuously supported EU and NATO military goals, with the hope that they could become full-fledged members of these organizations. Recently, Macedonia has said they are willing to increase their defense spending to meet NATO standards, and they pledged to up their support of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan.  However, it won’t happen until Greece puts regional security over a petty name dispute. Greece’s current stance, ironically,  goes against one of NATO’s core goals, while Macedonia’s track record of cooperation with NATO only strengthens its bid.

According to Lord Ismay, the organization’s first secretary general, NATO was established “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”. Recently, Russia has been exerting influence in former Soviet countries in order to reclaim its title of world power. It makes strategic sense for the U.S. and her allies in NATO to bring Macedonia into the fold to counter Russian attempts at undermining regional stability and order. This once again outweighs any Greek concerns about naming issues.

Lastly, Macedonia needs to be a member of the European Union for economic and human rights reasons. The EU promotes human rights throughout the member states. Ombudsmen are chosen to report to the EU governmental violations of rights so that the EU may punish the guilty state. Integration into the European Union enables the rule of law, democratic principles, and human rights to take root.  

Should Macedonia ascend into the EU, there would be significant economical benefits that other Balkan states are already experiencing. Economists estimate that Macedonia could see a per capita GDP gain of approximately 12%, and that “despite differences across countries, the evidence shows that the benefits of EU membership outweighed the costs for most countries – except for Greece.” This could be good for America too; since the US already has trade deals with the EU, Macedonian entrance into the Union would open up new opportunities for American businesses to expand in the region.

The United States and the rest of Europe can pressure Greece to vote for Macedonian ascension into both organizations by pressuring the IMF to stop bailouts of Greek debt. The EU and IMF should threaten to withhold new loans to a Greece that desperately needs money. Yes, the Greek economy has been improving, but they still rely greatly on the rest of Europe. Economic nudges may be the pressure point needed to get Macedonian into the EU and NATO. Greece still has the highest unemployment rate among EU members at around 22%. The next highest country is Spain at around 17%. Greece will fold at the threat of economic pressure. Europe and the United States have an obligation to place this pressure on them.

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