The prime ministers of neighbouring Macedonia and Greece, Nikola Gruevski and George Papandreou, respectively, agreed to meet this Thursday on the sidelines of the EU summit in Brussels to discuss their countries’ ongoing “name” spat.
The meeting will focus on key bilateral issues and the possibility of strengthening the “name” negotiation process under the auspices of the United Nations, Macedonian government officials told local media.
“Macedonia is interested in resolving the name dispute with Greece, perhaps much more so than Greece,” Gruevski told media on Saturday after the regional conference in Slovenia.
The announced parley will be the third between the two officials since Papandreou became Greek PM last autumn. The last meeting, held in Greece brought no breakthrough in the talks. Following that meeting, the Macedonian prime mininster told media that the Greek side had not softened its stance.
In one of his most recent media statements regarding the name spat, the Greek PM said that he would be willing to have another meeting with Gruevski, but only if it represented a substantial effort to move the ongoing talks forward.
Athens and Skopje are locked in a long standing row over the use of the name Macedonia. Greece, a member of NATO and the EU, has blocked its neighbour from advancing in its bid to join these organisations pending a solution to the dispute.
Athens insists that Skopje’s official name, Republic of Macedonia, implies territorial claims against its own northern province, also called Macedonia. Athens has said that it would likely accept a new name for its smaller neighbour that included a geographic qualifier and was used by all.
Skopje expressed fear that this might strip the country of its identity and noted that it is not ready to negotiate about changes to the term used to describe its nation and language- Macedonian.
The EU set June as an informal deadline for a solution to be reached. This would enable Macedonia to almost instantly join NATO and to get a date for the start of its EU accession talks.
The UN mediator in the dispute, Matthew Nimetz, visited the region in the end of February and met with top officials from both Skopje and Athens. However, little details were revealed about the ongoing talks, although the mediator did express optimism that the dispute could be resolved.