By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and his Macedonian host, Nikola Dimitrov – meeting in Skopje – said future talks would centre on solving the long-running dispute about Macedonia’s name.
At a joint press conference following their meeting in Skopje, the Foreign Ministers of Greece and Macedonia on Thursday said their discussions focused mainly on ways to revive stalled talks on Macedonia’s name – which Greece disputes – possibly this autumn.
Dimitrov emphasized that it was important for Greece to recognize “the new reality” in Macedonia that had occurred after the change in power in May, and was reflected in Macedonia’s “sincere desire” to build friendship with Athens.
“We expect and hope for help and support regarding our European integration and we want to see a friend and future ally in each other, instead of [trying to] outsmart each other,” Dimitrov said.
It is expected that UN-sponsored talks on the dispute, which have prevented Macedonia from joining NATO and starting its EU accession talks, may resume after the local elections in Macedonia in mid-October.
The fresh impetus comes after Macedonia’s new government pledged to renew the drive for Euro-Atlantic integration and resolve any open issues with its neighbours, primarily Greece, that stand in the way of this aim.
Kotzias, whose country has blocked Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic integration over the long-standing dispute, insisted that Greece wants “to see this dear northern country join NATO and the EU – but for that to happen, it must be in accordance to EU and NATO rules”.
He was referring to the EU and NATO principles on reaching a consensus among all member states before admitting new members – which Athens has used to block Macedonia’s progress.
The dispute centres on Greek insistence that use of the word “Macedonia” implies a territorial claim to the northern Greek province of the same name.
In 2008, Macedonia narrowly missed the chance to enter NATO solely because of the name dispute with Greece. NATO then said that Macedonia would become a member the moment it solved the bilateral dispute. Macedonia cannot start EU accession talks for the same reason.
So far, all efforts made by the veteran UN mediator Matthew Nimetz to find a compromise solution through some kind of compound name that would satisfy both sides have failed.
The talks have effectively been frozen since 2014, partly owing to the political crisis which engulfed Macedonia in early 2015 and which ended only recently, with the election of a new government under Zoran Zaev.
Nimetz renewed his diplomatic efforts this summer and met both foreign minister in separate meetings. He said that more concrete talks could be expected in the autumn.
During his stay in Skopje, Kotzias, who was making a return visit after Dimitrov went to Greece in June, will also meet Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, Prime Minister Zaev and the Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration, Bujar Osmani.