NEWS

Greece backs North Macedonia’s EU entry

The first ever visit by the neighboring country’s head of state focuses on common ground

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Greek diplomatic efforts are focused this week on the Western Balkans, with the first ever visit by North Macedonia’s president to Greece and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis attending an EU summit in Slovenia on the issue of Western Balkan countries’ accession to the EU.

North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski arrived in Athens Tuesday morning and met with both Mitsotakis, ahead of the latter’s trip to Slovenia, and Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

Remarking that almost two-and-a-half years have passed since the two countries signed the Prespes agreement by which they ended their nearly 30-year-old dispute about North Macedonia’s name – Greece’s neighbor had been using the name Republic of Macedonia internally, which Athens saw as implying territorial claims on Greece – Sakellaropoulou said that Greece supports its neighbor’s aspirations to join the European Union.

“I would like to reaffirm the importance we attach to the enhancement of bilateral relations and North Macedonia’s European perspective. The full, consistent and good faith implementation of the Prespes agreement is crucial for the implementation of both goals,” she said as she welcomed Pendarovski, the first head of state from North Macedonia to visit since the country declared its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. 

Pendarovski agreed with Sakellaropoulou that there are pending issues to be settled and added that his country is “willing to implement the agreement to the letter.”

In the meeting with Mitsotakis that followed, the Greek prime minister reiterated the country’s full support for the accession of North Macedonia and the other five Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia).

Pendarovski acknowledged that Greece is one of the strongest supporters of his country’s EU accession.

At the EU level, however, accession talks have stalled over certain issues, as well as bilateral conflicts, such as those between Kosovo and Serbia and EU member Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

The Associated Press reported that it saw a draft declaration in which EU members are expected to reaffirm their commitment to the enlargement process but stop short of providing a clear deadline.