Both hardliners in Greece and North Macedonia rejected a treaty that sought to end decades of tensions over the naming of the former Yugoslav Republic.
European Parliament social democrats chief Iratxe Garcia has called on the European Union to honour the terms of the Prespes Accord between Athens and Skopje, as Greece warned its northern neighbour that it will “closely monitor” the country’s adherence to the agreement.
“Accession talks have always been a magnet for more democracy and social progress, and a light of hope for citizens,” said García, the leader of the Social Democrats in the European Parliament, as reported by Euractiv news.
“The Prespa agreement between Greece and North Macedonia should be preserved,” she told a Greek television news channel.
“My group will call for this item to be put back on the European Council agenda before the spring, hoping that the other European leaders will finally persuade Macron to show a true European vision, also for the Balkans,” Garcia added, referring to French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent veto of Macedonia’s EU accession talks.
Garcia’s comments came after France, Denmark and The Netherlands earlier this month objected to North Macedonia’s and Albania’s accession during a European Council meeting, pointing to alleged corruption in both countries.
Saying Greece will “continue to closely monitor” North Macedonia’s adherence of the terms of the agreement, which was reached between Greek and North Macedonian officials last summer, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias recently accused Skopje of “taking advantage of the loopholes”.
Dendias became the country’s new foreign minister after the rightwing New Democracy won snap elections in Greece in July.
“Our aim is to solve problems and mitigate the negative consequences of the agreement through the European path,” Dendias added.
“For this reason, we will continue to monitor closely our neighbors’ full compliance with their responsibilities.”
Alexis Charitsis, a spokesperson for the leftwing Syriza party, which had governed the country since January 2015, called on the Greek government to “take initiatives for the implementation of the agreement”.
“North Macedonia’s EU accession course is in Greece’s interest,” he said in an interview with Alpha TV, describing the Prespes Accord as a diplomatic “success”.
On Monday, North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told Euronews said blocking the agreement could “freeze” its implementation.
“There is a link between the implementation of the Agreement and the opening and closing of accession chapters; especially for domestic use in some cases,” Zaev said.
The Prespes Accord was signed by Greek and North Macedonia officials on June 17, 2018, and the agreement went into effect in February.
Earlier this month, North Macedonian political parties agreed to hold early elections in April next year, citing the EU’s refusal to provide the country with a concrete date to start accession talks.
“We are victims of the EU’s historic mistake,” Zaev said at the time.
In Skopje, the name accord has proven contentious. Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov refused to sign off on the agreement, although the parliament approved it.
In September 2018, the country held a referendum asking voters whether they agreed to EU and NATO accession on the terms of the Prespes Accord.
Owing to a boycott, that vote only drew 37-percent participation, falling below the necessary 50-percent voter turnout to validate the results.
Nonetheless, 94 percent of those who voted approved, and the country’s leadership pressed forward with the agreement.
“The opposition claimed that the agreement breaks the right of self-determination,” Jasmine Golubovska, a political analyst in Skopje, told TRT World.
“It’s about connecting identity with names.”
Meanwhile in Greece, where opponents of the agreement accuse Skopje of appropriating Greek history and harbouring territorial designs on the country, the accord sparked a wave of protests.
In January 2019, protests against the agreement turned violent, with participants clashing with police and attacking reporters, among others.
Yonous Muhammadi, a former European Parliament candidate with Greece’s leftwing Syriza party, said anger over the Macedonia name agreement had also emboldened the country’s right-wing.
“Of course, I see that the right party, New Democracy, used the Macedonia issue as a tool to make the situation more sensitive,” he told TRT World.
“They tried to turn the [elections] into a vote for Macedonia,” he said, referring to the European Parliament vote in May and the snap elections in July.