Why Europe Needs the Republic of Macedonia
When we talk about the enlargement of the European Union, most often we mention the fear of Turkey, the Roma migration, the status of Kosovo, the problems surrounding the Balkan security…
As of recently, we often hear the appeals of European politicians for pause in the enlargement process because “candidate states, as well as the EU itself, are not prepared for it”.
Sometimes, when I am presented with the chance to meet some of these people, I ask them, “What about the Republic of Macedonia? Have you thought about the Republic of Macedonia, the country which has never been a source of conflicts, which fulfilled all the requirements of the international community, which developed an exceptionally successful ethnic integration model, the country which wants to become an EU member?” And I always receive the same response, a little embarrassed, a little reluctant, “Oh, yes, that is correct, we never thought about it, really, but the country is so small…”
I will attempt to draft a particularly political vision stemming from the assumption that the Republic of Macedonia has political arguments which are an integral part of the European discourse and practice and which are useful and fundamental to Europe itself.
The Republic of Macedonia is the only functioning multiethnic democracy in the Balkans. Passing through all the Balkan Scyllas and Charibdas, it managed to develop a working multiethnic model capable of dissolving or even avoiding conflicts. The theory and practice of international relations are very familiar with the hardship multiethnic societies are faced with and the effort needed to make a democracy function in such a context. The Republic of Macedonia, which as a concept fits perfectly into the abovementioned criteria, managed to activate this model, to make it “work” in a successfully way. There is no other case in the world where such tasks have been performed under such circumstance.
The EU values these achievements. It even officially commended the mechanisms the Macedonian state imposed on itself in order to guarantee the status of minorities. Europe says the other Balkan states must learn from the Macedonian model. On the other hand, a large part of the extensive range of minority rights embedded into the Macedonian constitution have not yet been achieved nor applied in most EU member states.
The Republic of Macedonia is the only complete success of the international community in the Balkans and, particularly, in the EU. The preventive EU diplomacy and the first military mission conducted under the wing of the European Union (EUROFOR 2003) are the biggest achievements of the EU and its Common Foreign and Security Policy and represent the essence and core of the Common European Defense Strategy. In turn, the Republic of Macedonia has shown that it will soon not need this assistance anymore.
Macedonia permanently complied with the principles of the EU’s and the USA’s regional agenda in relation to the stabilization of the Balkan region. Being a small country, both in size and ambition, it never questioned the responsibilities and arrangements with the EU and the USA at the time when the Balkans experienced those heavy crises. In the past fifteen years the Republic of Macedonia simply turned from a potential prey of expansionist ambitions of Balkan states into a factor of stability and trust in the whole region.
Of course, history teaches us that many times small countries suffer because they are not present on big geopolitical maps. The Republic of Macedonia does not deserve to suffer this lack of principles. It persevered to continue its existence as an independent state, also helping Europe to position itself on the Balkans and from here to emanate positive energy and set encouraging examples.
Macedonia is a Europeanness concentrate. The complexity of the Macedonian multiethnic society reflects the complexity of the European society. In reality, the models and practices of today’s Macedonian multiethnic democracy should be where Europe rediscovers its future models and practices. Europe must integrate this small brick into the European construction, use and learn from that multiethnic model which it itself desperately strives towards.
This article is not an opening statement regarding the EU accession of the Republic of Macedonia. Having no other way of influence, Macedonia shows it’s been predestined to meet the Copenhagen criteria as it walks the same path previous candidates have walked. The aim of this article is to simply remind the European citizens that at the heart of the Balkans there is a piece of land which has for the past fifteen years sent out positive vibrations, given encouraging examples, exported stability and security, and served as a reference point for the international community and the rest of the Balkan democratic leaders. And this is a state where the Europe-oriented citizens comprise up to 90% of the population – a percent unregistered in any other country at such a stage of its EU integration.
From a regional perspective it is clear that sooner or later the EU would have to consider how to integrate the Balkans and offer them some European future. With Bulgaria and Romania’s EU accession in 2007, the non-integrated island, which will be formed by the rest of the Balkan states, will be quite significant ballast for the Union itself. The application of the successful Macedonian model is the only chance the European Union has to present Macedonia as a conduit to the organization and European values on the Balkans. Macedonia is the best European investment in the region for solving the rest of the problems. The EU has no better or more cooperative partner than Macedonia, and Macedonia has no other alternative to a European future.
On its way to Europe the Macedonian state has to focus on several key neuralgic factors, which are either in short supply or are an obstacle before its EU integration.
First: a sponsor-state. Macedonia is a small and relatively recently recognized state. It has no long-lived historical and social capital. It can not rely on traditional friendships with some of the great world powers. On the other hand, however, it has since the year dot been in the center of the expansionist interests of neighboring countries. On its way to the EU Macedonia can not count on such open support as the one Slovenia and Croatia received from Germany.
And despite the statement of principles of the European Commission that what has always been evaluated is the individual progress of candidate states for EU membership, we often witness how the actual member states more often than not exert an influence on, lobby for and bargain on behalf of a specific state. The presence of a sponsor-state is not to be underestimated, particularly because the configuration of the EU as a sum of 25 states gives no opportunity for small countries to lobby effectively.
To begin with, the Republic of Macedonia can take advantage (and it’s already doing it) of the favorable disposition of the USA towards our hopes and desire to enter NATO. The role of the USA in this process should not be underrated because the US, though indirectly, is involved into the European integration. And since Macedonia is a small country, which threatens no one, it shouldn’t have any problem maintaining friendly relations with both its partners – the EU and the USA.
Right now the Republic of Macedonia is floating as plankton at the top of the big wave called “American interests on the Balkans”, and to a great degree, this is a peculiar coincidence, but also a result of Macedonia’s clear Euro-Atlantic orientation. This is an exceptionally significant fact and Macedonia should definitely try to make the best of it keeping in mind the wave could quickly pass by.
On the other hand, Macedonia could offer Europe its successful multiethnic model, stability, which preserved it through the worst crises, and cooperativeness, which it demonstrated in its relations with the international community. Choosing its allies Macedonia can lobby before those nations which base their international policy and influence on respect of human rights and minority rights, on the principles of the United Nations, tolerance and peaceful resolve of conflicts. These just nations are a natural ally to the Republic of Macedonia. Their export brand anyway lies in promoting human rights and minority rights, an area where Macedonia is ahead of all Balkan states and many European ones, too. Macedonia has to articulate these European states and commit them to its needs which are also theirs. They are here, they know us, and know what challenges a multiethnic state is faced with. I will name a number of similar countries: Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Finland, Holland, Denmark, Luxemburg, and as of more recently also the Baltic states and Slovenia.
Is there an end to the EU enlargement?
The Republic of Macedonia practically does not exist in the mental map of the European citizenry. The opinion polls of “Eurobarometer” show that European countries’ citizens know very little about Macedonia and its characteristics. On the other hand, though, the Turkish issue, the Kosovo issue, the Balkan security and emigration from Eastern Europe constantly occupy the minds of European politicians. Very few Europeans see Macedonia as a successful story in the sense the concerned European politicians call it and recognize it as such. This phenomenon of constant intensification of the negative aspects “flocking from the East” is not accidental and it is in funded in the Euroskepticism rooted in the domestic legitimacy of the European nation-states and their political elite.
At a moment when Europe reexamines its identity, form and function, in a situation of an extremely low degree of political participation of citizens, and in the context of constantly eroding national ontos of European states, the national political elites sustain the Euroskepticism of their citizens thus capitalizing their own legitimacy in their own countries. So it is far from strange that France is the biggest skeptic when it comes to enlargement: the social crisis in the French society, the lack of orientation in the global capitalist trends and the atrophied subventioned agriculture are only a fragment of the reasons that in turb brings back on the political menu the flow of immigrants – cheap work force from the East, the problematic Balkans and the too big and Muslim Turkey. By the way, Jacques Chirac and Angela Merkel were elected by the French and German voters, not by the European ones.
In this media and tactical battle of gigantic argumentations, Macedonia can not pretend it will essentially solve anything. It is simply too small to be noticed by anyone and too weak to divert European countries’ attention. But on the other hand, Macedonia is like an eyesore not only for Greece, but also for the European vision of the future Union which declaratively moves towards the definition of a multiethnic model even though it fails to engender it in reality.
The EU after all will have to finish its Balkan mission and naturally would not leave the region to its own mercy and cruelty. With the last events around the awarding of a candidate status to Turkey and Croatia, the remainder of the Balkans (and Macedonia in particular) is just a small chunk for the EU and not integrating this chunk would turn it into too big a burden even for Europe.
In the process of this painful integration many obstacles will arise. The European countries’ skepticism is usually manifested before national elections and before decisions on key European issues (budget, enlargement, agricultural policy, US relations and so on). We will witness this when the foreground will become occupied by spicy stories surrounding the accession of Turkey, the fear of the Balkan gunpowder keg or the expansion of the European borders towards Russia.
But the cases like the accession of Turkey or the patronage of the Ukraine by Poland and the US actually improve Macedonia’s position because that would be the beginning of the end of the “Europe ambitieuse” and a promotion of a commonwealth (Timothy Garton Ash) of states loosely connected by common economical interests and with common moral and (more modest) political ambitions.
In this context the Republic of Macedonia should not comply with the club logic of the EU, according to which the candidate member states pass through the hardest tests in order to qualify for a place in the club, often enduring different humiliating and non-European situations (the name issue with Greece, the group treatment of the EU towards the Balkans, the stereotypes of the Balkan countries, etc.). Macedonia has things to offer to Europe: namely the patiently constructed multiethnic democracy with which the Republic of Macedonia proved even under the unruly circumstance as that on the Balkans that it managed to realize what many European countries failed to. That is why Macedonia must be identified as worthy of EU integration, as a constructive assistant in the realization of the European dream.
Similarly, for the Balkans the atypical attitude of the Republic of Macedonia is a proof not only of virtues but also of an important rationality for Europe necessary in the affairs all Europeans are faced with.