The Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia told Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias on a day-visit to Skopje to “recognize the new reality” in the country and support its bid to join the European Union and NATO. Such a move would require overcoming the dispute row over the country’s name.
Greece has vetoed the ex-Yugoslav republic’s attempts to join the two bodies because of a decades-long dispute over the name Macedonia.
Athens argues that the use of the name implies territorial claim over Greece’s own northerly region of Macedonia.
It has agreed only that the country can be referred to in international venues as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM.
But the new government in Skopje of the Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, which took over in May, pledged to speed up the process of joining NATO and EU, for which good neighborly relations are set as one of the pre-conditions.
To demonstrate the commitment, Zaev’s government signed a friendship treaty with eastern neighbor Bulgaria this month designed to end years of diplomatic wrangling.
“We hope that Greece will recognize the new reality in Macedonia and our honest wish for friendship. We expect and we hope for help and support for European integration,” Macedonia’s foreign minister, Nikola Dimitrov said after meeting his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias.
It was the second meeting between the two foreign ministers since May.
“We spoke about the process, how it will be going, the methods and modalities, but we also spoke about what exactly are the interests and worries on both sides,” Dimitrov said.
Kotzias said Greece would be ready to support Macedonia’s bid to join EU and NATO, but only once all pre-conditions for membership are met. He did not elaborate.
The Macedonia name dispute has dragged on for almost 26 years with no clear progress. Athens has previously insisted that Skopje use a compound name such as “New” or “Upper” Macedonia.
Prior to Kotzias’ visit to Skopje, diplomatic sources from the Greek Foreign Ministry told Euractiv.com, it was still “early” to hold any substantial discussion about the name dispute.
The meeting will rather focus on “the identification of intentions” regarding the issue.
The same sources added that the primary objective of the visit is to “cultivate further trust” between the two parties.
After Kotzias’ initiative, Athens and Skopje reached an agreement in June 2015 to enhance their mutual trust via confidence-building measures (CBMs), which focuses on the fields of low politics.
The sixth meeting of this initiative took place last week and according to the Greek ministry of foreign affairs there was a “fruitful and productive discussion”.
Athens was recently disturbed by some incidents which, according to the Greek government, breached the spirit of the UN Interim Accord between the two countries.
*Source for Kotzias’ visit in Skopje is Reuters that writes “Macedonia” instead of FYROM.