[Note: Dear Macedonian readers, as Macedonian is not a language I know, please comment if my title needs to be corrected.]
From time to time I have pondered and generally cheered on the efforts of the small nation of North Macedonia to become better developed and better integrated with Europe as a whole . Since the moment I saw the little nation’s Olympic presence in the Atlanta summer Olympics as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the name it was known, internationally, before its agreement with Greece to call itself North Macedonia so as to avoid making any claims on Greek territory (since South Macedonia refers to the part of the ancient kingdom that is located within the Greek Republic), I have been a partisan of its underdog cause for international recognition. And while some nations (most notably the United Kingdom) have grown increasingly wary about too close a tie with Europe, North Macedonia not only has sought to enter into the European Union but gave its campaign a title, “The Sun, Too, Is A Star,” in reference to the sun in the North Macedonian flag and its ambition to be included among the stars in the flag of the European Union. It is a clever campaign and one that takes advantage of the symbolism that is inherent in such matters, similar to what one would expect from a statehood campaign for a territory that wanted to join the United States, another nation with stellar symbolism for its constituent parts that is analogous to the Macedonian situation.
Europe’s expansion efforts at present appear to be focused clearly on the Balkans as the main region that generally wants but has not yet been integrated into the European whole. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, the various constituent parts of the former Yugoslavia as well as their Balkan neighbors were rather slow in being accepted into the European Union. As acceptance into the EU requires the unanimous consent of existing nations, it is by no means an easy thing for small and poor nations with serious diplomatic problems with their neighbors and serious issues regarding human trafficking, corruption, and political freedoms to gain that acceptance into the cool kids’ table of the EU. Slovenia, neighbor to Austria and by far the most developed of the Balkan nations, was able to very quickly meet the standard and leave the Balkan mess behind in 2004. Three years later it was the turn of Bulgaria and Romania to enter into the European Union, and six years after that Croatia was accepted. Since then no nation has joined the EU, and there are five states that are all in talks to join: Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey.
Of these nations, Montenegro and Turkey are the farthest along. Montenegro has closed 3 of the 33 chapters required before accession can take place, and has made moderate to good level of preparation on most of the remaining chapters, with the exception of freedom of movement for workers, fisheries, social policy & employment, environment & climate change, and financial and budgetary provisions. Turkey has managed to close one of its thirty-three chapters. In stark contrast to this progress, North Macedonia is not yet at the stage of closing any chapters, as it is not even two-thirds of the way through the screen starting process, after which there is the screening completion stage, the chapter opening stage, and then the chapter closing stage after that. And currently North Macedonia is being tied to Albania as both candidates are going through the process together as a Balkan cohort, and Albania too is towards the beginning of the process with some 80% of its screening having started so far. From the looks of it so far, given that North Macedonia has only two areas where matters are at an early stage, namely in financial & budgetary provisions and freedom of movement for workers, and five years where it is seen as having a good level of preparation, it is possible that progress will be made before too long to bring North Macedonia up to the level of its neighbors.
The principal of unanimity when it comes to EU accession has made things complicated when it comes to expansion in the Balkans. Montenegro generally has good relations with its neighbors and so its candidacy has not had any hangups other than the fact that it was very slow to achieving independence and has had a contentious internal political history. North Macedonia was long delayed in starting its accession talks because of the longrunning dispute over its name and the implications of that name with Greece. And it is thought by some that Serbia and Kosovo should be tied together given that accepting Serbia first would lead to an almost certain veto for Kosovo, although Kosovo has yet to begin its accession process with the EU and is not even a fully recognized nation in the UN at this time. Given that context it is not surprising at all that Kosovo’s preparation for accession into the EU is considerably further behind even that of Albania and North Macedonia, with no areas considered to be above moderate preparation and eight areas to be considered at an early stage and an additional issue beyond the thirty three that others have including normalisation of relations with Serbia, where considerable efforts are seen as needed, which seems about right. It is rather telling that there are half a dozen states in the Balkans that desire to be a part of the EU, all of which have faced a long road to get there and all of whom are seen as taking at least another five years or more to reach the level at which they may enter the EU as a full member.
What is it that each side wants from each other? For Europe, expansion would allow for the spread of European institutions and law into an area that has been vulnerable to human and drug trafficking and that has been considerably unstable for a long while. The physical geography of the area has long been fragmented and this has influenced a fragmented political geography situation going back a long while, as the place was long part of the boundary region between the Greek and Roman domains and “barbarian ones,” and between Byzantine and Slavic and between Turkish and Christian areas of influence. The divide between Macedonian and Bulgarian and between Serbian, Croatian, Bosniak, and Montenegrin is symbolic of these issues. Whether or not these nations can resolve their issues with neighbors and prove themselves to be fit to achieve their own ambitions as being on the level of the Western and Central European nations they wish to equal. Let us hope that they find that they are seeking to be what they wanted, and that both sides are pleased with the results, those who are accepting and those who want to be accepted.
 See, for example: