A top UN official has said an end to the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece “can and should be resolved” within months, “certainly next year.”
Matthew Nimetz, the UN special representative, started this week a new effort to help resolve the dispute between the two countries. The objection of Greece to the name of the Balkan country has been marring Macedonia from joining in the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In remarks to the media in Brussels after talks with Greek and Macedonian envoys Adamantios Vassilakis and Vasko Naumovski Nimetz said he believed “There is a real push for some resolution in the next months ahead.”
Nimetz has already made a range of proposals toward settling the long standing dispute. He reported to have suggested, behind closed doors, several possible names for Macedonia. In his latest remarks Nimetz refused to elaborate what new name could replace Macedonia’s current official name – the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or the FYROM.
It has been more than 20 years since the signing of the Interim Agreement on the name dispute between the two countries but all repeated attempts to resolve it have all failed despite frequent statements from both that it is high time now to resolve it.
The migration crisis, the increased terrorism threat and the economic crisis that affects all European countries are reasons why settling this issue has become vitally important. The agreement would be on a name for the state that includes Macedonia but with a geographical modifier before it. The new name with a geographical description is being suggested to preserve the dignity of the state but also differentiate it from the north part of Greece which is called Macedonia.
Past few years of talks between the Greek and Macedonian foreign ministries have been constructive and a set of confidence building measures (CBMs) have been decided and put into force reflecting the improved climate between the two countries.
Next February the Greek and Macedonian foreign ministers are scheduled to have a bilateral meeting. Coupled with the optimistic remarks of Nimetz and Macedonian new Prime Minister Zoran Zaaev vow to improve bilateral relations with Greece, a deal on the name of the Balkan state might be really discernible, diplomatic sources say.
Macedonian prime minister is now expected to take some “goodwill measures” before the February meeting of the two foreign ministers. High on the list of goodwill expectations are the renaming of the Alexander the Great Airport – which might help to resume direct flights to and from Athens – and the Alexander the Great Highway that connects the two countries.
Greece has been particularly demanding the Macedonian government dropping its “irredentist rhetoric” of being the only descendants of ancient Macedonians. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister was reported to have been stressing that progress in Macedonia-Greek relations could come with a mutually acceptable approach if Macedonia walked such a road.
Resolving the name dispute will give the passport for Skopje’s European Union and NATO accession.
Macedoia is expecting an affirmative report from the European Commission next April, setting her a date to start accession negotiations. Similarly, at the NATO summit next July, if the name dispute could be resolved and the 2008 veto of Greece could be lifted, the Balkan country might join the alliance.
Nikos Kotzias, the Greek foreign minister, has called 2018 “a watershed year” since both countries have elections in 2019. Already, bets have opened in Athens that Greek government might even call an early election for the fall of 2018. Thus, it might be a bonus for the Tsipras government to enter elections as a government that solved the Macedonia name dispute and elevated Greece to a status with which it could play a higher profile role in the Balkans.