Greece is insisting on finding a solution to the name dispute with Macedonia in a bid to help support its northern neighbour to become part of the EU and Nato, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said on June 14 after he met his Macedonian counterpart – the new Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov in Athens.
This was Dimitrov's first official visit to Greece in his new role as part of the new Social Democrat-led government. The visit was an attempt by Macedonian authorities to find a solution to the decades-long name dispute and to speed up the process of Euro-Atlantic integration. Greece objects to the use of the name “Macedonia” as it is shared by its northern province.
Greek minister Kotzias said that the government in Athens is pleased that its northern neighbour found the path to stability. "Finding a solution is a condition and I believe we must and can work on reaching a good compromise that benefits both sides," Kotzias was cited as saying by news agency MIA.
“I told Dimitrov and now to the public that Greece is supporting the territorial integrity of our neighbour, its stability, sovereignty and non-interference in its internal affairs,” Kotzias said.
Kotzias is also convinced that the development of bilateral relations and mutual trust will facilitate talks between the two sides over all open issues.
The Greek Foreign Minister also blamed the previous Macedonian government led by the VMRO-DPMNE party, which ruled for a decade, for irredentism and the stalled processes of the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration.
Macedonia minister Dimitrov concluded he'd had open and cordial talks with his Greek peer and said: “We will continue to provide arguments with words and deeds that are in the interest of our southern neighbour, [so that] our country will become a European democracy and be part of the EU and Nato,” at the news conference following the meeting.
“We have no hidden agendas and we want to be friends with your country,” Dimitrov said. He added that the new government is strongly determined to work hard for strong institutions and rule of law.
The meeting in Athens was also aimed at restoring trust between the two neighbours, as Greece considers the new government in Skopje, voted in on May 31 after a lengthy political crisis, to be friendlier than its predecessor.
International media reported about the meeting between Macedonian and Greek ministers saying that Macedonia is trying to enter Nato under a new name.
Kotzias recently was cited as saying that the Greek government will not succumb to Western pressure to allow its northern neighbour to become part of Nato under the provisional name FYROM (the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), but only after the two countries find a permanent solution to the name issue.
Proposed alternatives in the past included Upper or Northern Macedonia.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev was optimistic about Dimitrov-Kotzias meeting, saying on June 14 in Skopje that Macedonia will continue to take measures to restore confidence between the two countries. In a government statement he said that every meeting is a chance for unblocking the stalled processes.
Zaev recently met Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with whom he discussed ways for the country to advance in the Nato accession path. The Macedonian PM had expected Macedonia to be invited to join Nato under the temporary name FYROM, while talks on the name dispute are held simultaneously with the ongoing process of Macedonia’s EU integration. However, Stoltenberg said after the meeting that Macedonia first has to find a solution to the name dispute and then to receive an invitation for Nato membership.
Reports show that Macedonia’s Nato aspirations were also hindered by other international factors. The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and its partners recently reported that leaked Macedonian intelligence documents revealed a wide-ranging effort by Russia to sow discord in Macedonia in the hopes of derailing the country and others in the Balkans, from joining Nato and continuing their integration into Western structures. OCCRP cited documents that Serbian agents also attempted to aid anti-Western and pro-Russian nationalists in Macedonia.
Greece vetoed Macedonia’s accession to Nato at the Bucharest summit in 2008. This was two years into the rule of the conservative VMRO-DPMNE in Macedonia.
Macedonia has been an EU candidate country since 2005 and received eight conditional recommendations to start the EU accession talks, but the process was blocked due to the unresolved dispute with Greece. If the two countries do manage to find a solution to the name, this would unblock years of trying by Macedonia to join Nato and the EU, and thus stabilise the crisis-hit country.