After a strong start, talks between government officials of both countries over the name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have slowed down significantly as Athens awaits significant concessions from Skopje on Greece’s key demand for changes to FYROM’s constitution.
There had been hopes that Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias would visit Skopje last week but the drop in momentum has postponed that trip indefinitely.
This week he is due to speak at Tufts University in Boston and so would not have been able to travel to Skopje anyway. But the differences that continue to separate Greek and FYROM officials could mean that a trip will not happen until the end of March.
Kotzias’s trip, when it comes, will be the first direct flight from Athens to Skopje in 12 years.
Meanwhile, diplomats will be closely monitoring a scheduled visit to Skopje on Tuesday by US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell, who is due to arrive in Athens on Thursday.
In a statement released before his trip, the State Department said Mitchell will reaffirm US support for FYROM’s “Euro-Atlantic aspirations” and for its “ongoing negotiations with Greece.”
Although FYROM has followed through on pledges to make symbolic changes – such as changing the names of Skopje’s international airport and a key highway which had both included the name of Alexander the Great – Greek officials are concerned at the absence of any shift on matters of substance.
The consistent refusal by FYROM’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to consider a revision of his country’s constitution – due to Greek concerns about irredentist references – is a case in point.
Zaev has insisted instead on the drafting of an international treaty, noting that, in any case, his government does not have the required parliamentary majority to push through any constitutional changes.
Greek officials have argued that Zaev can persuade the additional MPs to legislate constitutional reform.
As for the core issue, regarding the change to FYROM’s name, the two sides appear to be edging toward a compromise in United Nations-mediated negotiations. Still the prospects of concessions have fueled large public protests in both countries.
On Monday Kotzias was in Bucharest for talks with his Romanian and Bulgarian peers, Teodor Melescanu and Ekaterina Zaharieva. Kotzias reiterated Greece’s support for bids by Romania and Bulgaria for accession to the passport-free Schengen area.