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EU entry hopes

December 8, 2009

The European Union has deferred a decision on when to start accession talks with Macedonia. The stumbling block is Greek opposition to the former Yugoslav republic's name.

Macedonian children wave EU flags
Macedonians are ready and willing, but now they're going to have to waitImage: AP

"The Council notes that the Commission recommends the opening of accession negotiations with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and will return to the matter during the next presidency," EU foreign ministers said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Skopje had been hoping for a different outcome from a meeting of the union's foreign ministers on Monday. But after mulling it over, the diplomats decided it was best to revisit the issue of Macedonian accession when Spain picks up the reins of the rotating presidency next year.

Greece is opposed to starting talks with the ex-Yugoslav republic on the grounds that Macedonia is the name of a Greek province and that as such it ought not be adopted by anyone else.

Blocking power

Although the foreign ministers' statement makes it clear that there is a willingness to open the way for Skopje to join the European club, it also stressed that "maintaining neighborly relations, including a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution on the name issue, under the auspices of the UN, remains essential."

Last year Athens used the name dispute to block Macedonia's entry into NATO and has made it clear that it will not consider slackening its stance on EU entry until after Greek presidential elections in March 2010.

And without Greece onboard, there's no hope for the republic joining the 27-member bloc.

Accession is dependent not only on a recommendation from the Commission itself, but also on acceptance from all member countries.

Greece is not the only country to speak out against Macedonian membership. France, which is keen to postpone further EU englargment, has backed Athens.

Editor: Trinity Hartman