Greeks get slap on wrist over Macedonia

GREECE has broken European law by putting a trade embargo on Macedonia, a spokesman for the European Commission said yesterday. But though the country's EU colleagues united in criticism of the move, they did little more than administer a slap on the wrist.

The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, will raise the issue when he visits Athens next Monday and Tuesday, British sources say.

Greece disputes the right of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to use a name that is also used for an adjacent Greek province, saying that this constitutes a claim on Greek territory. It also wants Skopje, as Greece calls the state, to change its constitution and stop using what Athens claims are uniquely Greek national symbols. To force concessions, it closed the port to certain imports for Macedonia, which may include oil.

But EU states are supposed to adhere to a common trade regime, maintain a common foreign policy and keep each other informed about their actions. The decision by the Greek government last week to block Macedonian imports through the port of Salonika was a 'clear infraction' of EU trade rules and case law, the spokesman said yesterday. The Commission's legal services had asked for an explanation from Athens, he added.

Jacques Delors, the Commission President, yesterday reminded the Greek Deputy Foreign Minister, Theodoros Pangalos, that as the guardian of the EU founding treaty, the Commission had a duty to see that it was respected. The Commission seems to be paving the way for legal action in the European Court of Justice if Athens does not budge.

The Commission has also dispatched Hans van den Broek, the Foreign Affairs Commissioner, to Skopje and Athens to attempt to solve the bilateral problem. Greece is particularly angry that its EU partners and the US recognised Macedonia and sent diplomats there against Greek wishes and without obtaining guarantees from the regime. To some extent it has got what it wanted: an international focus on the problem. If an international conference is convened on the Balkans, Greece will push for a solution to the problem there.

However, as ministers met in Brussels yesterday, there seemed to be little appetite for any sustained attack on Greece. The atmosphere was described as 'firm' by British government sources; a series of diplomatic demarches have been made; and yesterday the Foreign Office called in the Greek ambassador. But at the moment, Greece is still promising an 'explanation'.

The Greek action comes at a difficult time. Athens currently holds the presidency of the European Union, a rotating post that lasts six months. Policy in the Balkans is one of the most important issues on the agenda, and Greece is in a sensitive position. None of Greece's partners seems keen to over-antagonise the government, mainly because they do not wish to cause a damaging split. They are also aware that much of the government's rhetoric is for public consumption.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Life and Style
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
filmSony could have made a cult classic
Life and Style
fashionThe essential guide to all the designer Christmas sale dates
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Mark Wright
tvStrictly goes head-to-head with Apprentice
footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas