Tsipras, Merkel to meet as Skopje leaders tour EU cities to showcase ‘good will’

Tsipras, Merkel to meet as Skopje leaders tour EU cities to showcase ‘good will’

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to discuss the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) during his meeting today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the informal summit of 27 European Union leaders in Brussels on Friday.  

The meeting will take place after Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said on Thursday that the EU will soon recommend starting accession talks with Albania and FYROM as part of the bloc’s effort to incorporate the Western Balkans. 

“The EU Commission will soon recommend, most likely by the summer, that member-states begin accession negotiations with Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” Hahn said in an interview with Germany’s Die Welt newspaper on Thursday.

He added that the EU believes “both countries have made important reforms in the past, and are thus qualified for this step.”

Moreover, Alternate Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos sent a letter to Hahn and Regional Policy Commissioner Corina Cretu on Thursday informing them of Athens’s intention to back FYROM’s candidacy to join the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR) – one of two goodwill initiatives agreed by Tsipras and FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in Davos in January. 

The Greek Parliament is also expected to ratify the second phase of FYROM’s Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. 

The tiny Balkan nation has been a candidate for EU membership since 2005 but its aspirations were blocked due to its name dispute with Greece.

To the end of expediting efforts that would lead to a solution, Zaev and FYROM’s President Gjorge Ivanov and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov have been touring EU capitals seeking to showcase the tiny Balkan country’s symbolic initiatives to prove it has no irredentist claims with regard to Greece. 

Apart from taking down signposts bearing the name Alexander the Great from its main airport and a key highway, FYROM on Thursday also started taking down statues that could be interpreted as symbolizing irredentist ambitions against Greece.

“Our actions show our goodwill and show that we have no irredentist aspirations,” Zaev said in Berlin on Wednesday.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas on Thursday lauded the initiatives and announced that Jean-Claude Juncker will begin a tour of the Western Balkans in Skopje on Sunday.

However, Panos Kammenos, the leader of the junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL), said on Thursday hat his party will do “everything it can” so as not allow a compromise solution with FYROM that will allow it to use the term “Macedonia” in its name.

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