The prospects for a breakthrough in talks between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the latter’s name are unclear as although FYROM’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev expressed optimism over the weekend, technical-level discussions between the two sides have been ridden with obstacles.
In comments on Saturday, Zaev said he was “optimistic” but that certain “technical details” remain to be settled, adding that he would telephone his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras when those issues have been resolved.
He said he hoped a deal could be reached by late June, adding that the two sides have agreed to sign any agreement in Prespes, northern Greece, near Lake Prespa, which is shared by Greece and FYROM as well as Albania.
Greek officials struck a cautiously reassuring stance over the weekend. Interior Minister Panos Skourletis said the government was handling the issue “responsibly,” adding that conditions were ripe for a solution.
It is unclear however how close an agreement actually is. Some sources say a deal is likely to be long in the making, not least because Zaev faces significant pushback in his country, with the political opposition planning protest rallies.
A possible scenario is that a deal will be eked out over the coming months, with Zaev possibly asking Tsipras for more time to ease domestic opposition.
If on the other hand obstacles are overcome and a deal is signed in the coming weeks, Zaev will have to push it through FYROM’s parliament.
If that is done before a June 28 European Union leaders’ summit, Athens can send a letter backing the country’s EU accession to Brussels, and another letter to NATO, which FYROM also aims to join, which has a summit in July.
It is likely the process will drag on into the fall as Zaev has pledged to put a deal to a referendum in September or October. If the referendum approves the name, the deal would then go to Greece’s Parliament for ratification.
For Tsipras, some say, an earlier deal would be preferable so he does not have to travel to Thessaloniki for the international fair in September without a solution to the name dispute.
In comments over the weekend, Archbishop Ieronymos said “we are not giving our name to anyone,” adding however that the matter was a concern for Parliament, not the Church.