Foreign policy and defense
Ever since independence from the former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the main foreign policy
goal has been membership of the EU and NATO defense
alliance. After the change of name to Northern
Macedonia, the NATO membership became a reality in March
2020, and the country has embarked on the long road
towards EU membership.
Greece has long put a stop to Macedonia's quest for
EU and NATO membership. The reason was the country name,
which according to the Greeks itself constituted a
provocation. The contradictions go back to the time
before the First World War, when historic Macedonia was
shared between Greece and Serbia. After the war, the
Slavic part of Macedonia was part of the new state
formation which eventually became known as Yugoslavia.
Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Macedonia for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
When Macedonia became independent from Yugoslavia in
1991, Greece refused to recognize the new state. The
Greeks pointed out that the name Macedonia belongs to
the Greek cultural heritage. The Greeks had the same
claim on the Virginia Star that the Macedonians chose to
have on their flag. Greece also objected to the wording
of the draft Macedonian constitution which it believed
could be interpreted as territorial claims in parts of
Greece demanded that Macedonia change its name before
membership in the EU and NATO could become relevant.
Only in the summer of 2018 did the countries reach an
agreement that Macedonia should change its name to
Northern Macedonia (read the agreement text here). Thus,
the Greek government was ready to release its opposition
to a Macedonian accession to the EU and NATO.
Nationalist groups in both countries, however, strongly
opposed the settlement.
In early 2019, the exchange was approved by both
governments and Northern Macedonia signed an agreement
with NATO that was expected to lead to membership
already this year. The process took a little longer over
time, but on March 27, 2020, Northern Macedonia became
NATO's 30th member state. Three other states that were
also part of the former Yugoslav republics were already
members: Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro.
Moreover, the day before the NATO membership was a
fact, the EU had finally agreed to allow Northern
Macedonia, as well as Albania, to start negotiations on
membership. However, no start date for the negotiations
was set and the final membership is still several years
The name dispute led to Macedonia being adopted as a
member of the UN in 1993 under the provisional name of
the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The dispute
between the countries was partially settled in 1995,
after the Republic of Macedonia introduced a wording in
its constitution that the country has no territorial
claims on other states. In addition, the flag was
changed by replacing the 16-pointed Virginia star, the
weapon of ancient Macedonia, with a sun with eight rays.
Macedonia and Greece established diplomatic relations
while launching UN-led talks on a definitive solution to
the name issue. The talks were down for long periods but
resumed in early 2018.
The conflict over the name has long prevented
Macedonia's proximity to NATO and the EU. At the NATO
summit in Bucharest in 2008, Albania and Croatia were
invited to join, while Macedonia, despite having
implemented all the necessary military reforms, was
forced to wait due to demands from Greece. The
International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague
declared in 2011 that Greece's blocking of Macedonia's
NATO membership was a violation of the agreement
negotiated by the UN in 1995. However, the Court did not
order Greece to stop Macedonia's membership. Following
the agreement on the change of name in 2018, NATO
invited Macedonia to apply for membership, and by 2020,
Northern Macedonia became a member.
With the EU, in the spring of 2001, Macedonia signed
a so-called Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA).
In March 2004, Macedonia submitted an application for
membership and in December 2005 was accepted as a
candidate country. But the EU wants to see further legal
and economic reforms, as well as tougher corruption,
before formal membership negotiations can begin. Prior
to the change of name, the EU announced that membership
negotiations with Northern Macedonia could begin in
2019. But in March 2020, the EU formally agreed to start
In December 2009, the EU abolished the visa
requirement for Macedonian citizens when traveling
within the Schengen area.
Concerns in the region
The events of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s
fundamentally affected what was then Macedonia. When
Yugoslavia collapsed, almost all of the Yugoslav trade
ceased and the wars made Macedonia, which lacks its own
coast, difficult to maintain its foreign trade. When
full war erupted in Kosovo in 1998 and scores of Kosovo
Albanians fled into Macedonia, many Macedonians feared
that the Macedonian Albanians would like to join a
Greater Albania, but the fears did not come true.
When Serbia's president Slobodan Milošević lost power
in 2000, tensions in the region diminished. Serbia
offered negotiations on an equitable distribution of
former Yugoslav assets and cooperation in a number of
areas. Relations with Serbia deteriorated temporarily
when Macedonia, in October 2008, together with
Montenegro, recognized Kosovo as an independent state
after a large majority in Parliament voted for
With Bulgaria, in the autumn of 2012, a conflict
arose after Macedonia accused Bulgaria of sending
Macedonian Jews to concentration camps in Germany during
the Second World War. Bulgaria's then regime supported
Nazi Germany during the war and occupied for most years
most of today's Macedonia. Unlike Greece, in 1991
Bulgaria quickly recognized the country under the name
"Republic of Macedonia", but it does not recognize
Macedonian as its own language or Macedonia as its own
people, but only as a kind of Bulgarian / Bulgarian (see
Population and Languages). However, the two countries
entered into a friendship agreement in 2017 and promised
to leave historical contradictions behind.
Northern Macedonia's defense was formerly part of the
Yugoslav People's Army (JNA). Nowadays, the country has
its own defense force serving both Macedonians and
Albanians, even though the Albanians are
under-represented in the officer corps. General military
duty was abolished in 2007. The country has participated
in EU / NATO civil / military operations in, for
example, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Afghanistan.
With EU support, police have been trained to, among
other things, monitor borders and put an end to
organized international crime. However, smuggling of
people and drugs and more continues to be a problem. In
the mid-2010s, tens of thousands of refugees came,
mainly from the war in Syria and Afghanistan, who came
from Turkey and Greece via the so-called Balkan route.
However, most of them moved on from Macedonia and the
Balkan route was closed in the spring of 2016.
FACTS - DEFENSE
8,000 men (2017)
Military expenditure's share of GDP
1.0 percent (2017)
Military spending's share of the state budget
3.1 percent (2017)