April 2020

By Sally A. Painter and Pero Jolevski 

On March 27, North Macedonia became NATO’s 30th member. A few days earlier, EU member states approved the start of EU membership talks with the country. These two developments mark a crucial milestone for the Alliance in this era of Transatlantic skepticism—particularly after the historic failure of the 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit when North Macedonia’s accession was vetoed and Georgia and Ukraine’s Membership Action Plans (MAP) were rejected.

North Macedonia’s long lasting Transatlantic accessions finally came to an end after the country’s two decade dispute with Greece over the “name issue” was resolved when the two countries signed the “Prespa” agreement.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg presided over the ceremonial accession of North Macedonia to the Alliance, saying, “I welcome the support from several NATO Allies to our newest member. This is Allied solidarity in action. Thirty flags will now fly together, a symbol of our unity and our solidarity."

While nations struggle in the fight against the global COVID-19 pandemic, NATO is determined to continue playing its part in supporting these efforts. Secretary General Stoltenberg noted that NATO Defense Ministers have met in an extraordinary video conference session to discuss how NATO can support civilian efforts in the fight against the pandemic.

Recently, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg appointed a group of experts to study ways to further strengthen the political dimension of the Alliance, as was agreed during the leaders’ meeting in London last year. Turkey's Ambassador, Tacan Ildem, who currently serves as NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy, will be among the group of five male and five female experts from other NATO countries.

The group “will offer recommendations to reinforce the Alliance’s unity, increase political consultation and coordination between Allies, and strengthen NATO’s political role,” noted a NATO statement. Additionally, “the group will engage with Allied capitals and the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s decision making body, and other relevant stakeholders,” it added.

Thomas de Maiziere, member of the German Bundestag and former German defense minister together with Wess Mitchell, former U.S Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs will chair the group. Poland is the only new NATO member country represented, leaving out all Baltic and Balkan members.

With respect to the European Union, Ministers of Foreign Affairs from EU member states met on March 24 by video conference and approved the start of EU membership talks with both North Macedonia and Albania. Germany's State Secretary for European Affairs Michael Roth called the decision "good news in these gloomy times."

In the midst of a global pandemic, the UK leaving the European Union, the France-led resistance to defer starting EU talks for new member states, and the U.S. ambivalence towards NATO, these new developments are an inspiring sign of the strength of the EU and Transatlantic partnership and their vision of a united Europe, “whole and free.”