EU foreign ministers postponed a decision for the start of accession talks with Macedonia, after Greece opposed an early start to the talks.
EU foreign ministers discussed the issue of Macedonia until late Monday in an attempt to find a breakthrough with Greece, postponing a press conference that had been scheduled for that afternoon.
The Swedish presidency had initially prepared a draft conclusion where it said ministers would consider the issue in March 2010, with a view to setting a date for the opening of accession negotiations. The Greek government objected, arguing that it would not be able to promise any dates to Macedonia.
Therefore EU ministers agreed to “return to the issue during the Spanish Presidency”, that starts on 1 January, 2010.
“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,” ministers said in a statement.
They stressed the need for a resolution of the name issue and of maintaining good neighborly relations. At the same time they said they were encouraged by recent positive developments in relations between Greece and Macedonia.
Macedonia has been an EU candidate country since December 2005. For a number of years the country did not fulfill necessary criteria, but in this autumn’s progress report the European Commission said Skopje is ready to start talks, and recommended member states extend a start date.
However, Greece has all along said it will block any decision to give Skopje a start date pending a solution to the 18-year-old name dispute with the country. In April 2008, Greece also blocked NATO’s invitation for Macedonia’s membership in the Alliance for the same reason.
Athens claims Macedonia’s constitutional name implies territorial demands over its norther province, also called Macedonia.
Macedonia’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, in Brussels to participate in the conference, stated on Tuesday that “Greece has already done big political damage and history will prove this”.
He argued that Greece cannot remove Macedonia’s name or identity, because according to him, Macedonians have existed for centuries, “ever since Alexander the Great”.
“We will not be broken by injustice. We are small but strong,” Gruevski said.