The Effect of Europe's Refugee Crisis on Macedonia

3 MINS READDec 31, 2015 | 20:29 GMT
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A recent opinion survey by the Center for Insights in Survey Research showed that more than half of Macedonians believe that their country has become more unstable in recent years and that it is moving in the wrong direction. The first half of 2016 will be key for the future of Macedonia, a country where long-standing political turmoil is being further intensified by Europe's refugee crisis and disputes with Greece.

In 2015, Macedonia was one of the countries most affected by the massive influx of immigrants from the Middle East. However, for most of the year Macedonia was basically a transit state for asylum seekers trying to reach Germany and other northern European countries. Things became more complicated when countries along the Balkan route began to close their borders, creating bottlenecks at several points.

The boundary between Greece and Macedonia became one of these contentious areas. Skopje closed the border, and Athens was forced to accept a deployment of EU border guards to bar immigrants from crossing north out of Greece. However, protests by asylum seekers on the Greek side of the border have multiplied in recent weeks, and refugees will likely try to reach Macedonia next year.

The prospect of EU membership will continue to influence the political situation in Macedonia, but it is unlikely that Skopje will be ready for EU accession any time soon. Although support for EU accession remains strong, it is declining. In early 2006, 97 percent of the population thought Macedonia should join the bloc. By late 2015, support for EU membership had fallen to 72 percent. In addition, only 25 percent think Macedonia is closer to EU accession today than it was when Skopje was given EU candidate status in 2005. This is probably a combination of long-term factors, including a progressive disenchantment regarding the union, and more recent events. For example, half the people surveyed said they felt the European Union is not handling the refugee crisis correctly.

In addition, Skopje's accession into the EU has been hampered by an ongoing dispute with Greece over the country's name. Greece refuses to accept Macedonia's name out of fear that doing so would allow its northern neighbor to make territorial claims over the Greek province of Macedonia. Because Athens is a member of both the European Union and NATO, it has veto power over the incorporation of new members into both organizations. As long as the name dispute with Greece is unresolved, Skopje's EU accession will remain unlikely.

If Skopje no longer considers EU membership a goal, Macedonia will have less interest in maintaining good ties with its neighbors, which could open the door for further conflicts with Greece.

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