The prime ministers of neighboring Macedonia and Greece, Nikola Gruevski and George Papandreou, will convene on Friday to talk about ways of resolving their 18 years long name row.
The two will convene at the sidelines of a trilateral climate change meeting between Albania, Macedonia and Greece which will take place on Greek territory near the Prespa Lake, a focal point where the three countries borders intersect.
After the trilateral, Papandreou and Gruevski will have a tête-à-tête to try to find a modality to overcome their differences on the name issue.
The meeting will take place some ten days before EU member states are due to meet on 7 December, where they are expected to decide whether to give a date for Macedonia’s accession talks with the bloc. Athens has threatened to block the giving of a date, pending a solution to the name dispute.
Media speculate that given the short period prior to the EU Council meeting, Gruevski and Papandreou can only focus on finding a mutually acceptable name, leaving discussions about its span of use and other details for later.
Last year Athens blocked Skopje’s NATO accession arguing that the country’s constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia implies territorial claims towards its own northern province which is also called Macedonia.
The European Commission last month gave Macedonia an added incentive to resolve the name dispute by recommending the EU gives Skopje a start date for accession negotiations into the bloc, but left the decision on the date to member states.
EU officials have repeatedly urged Macedonia to seize the moment, keeping in mind also that there has been a change of government in Greece with the election of Papandreou – who is seen as less hawkish regarding the name issue than his predecessor Kostas Karamanlis.
Gruevski and Papandreou recently had a short courtesy meeting in Brussels to break the diplomatic ice between the two countries that has lasted for almost four years.
Media have been citing unnamed Brussels diplomats as saying that Commission will make a last ditch attempt to find a mechanism to resolve the dispute ahead of 7 December.
They say that some version of the name Northern Macedonia may be on the table.