Critical week for FYROM talks

Critical week for FYROM talks

A flurry of diplomacy is under way amid reports of a new push to resolve the “Macedonia” name dispute with the possible drafting of an international treaty among the options said to be under consideration.

Following talks between Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and his counterpart from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the weekend, negotiations are proceeding based on three documents: one submitted by each of the ministers and one by the office of United Nation mediator Matthew Nimetz.

According to sources, diplomats are discussing the possibility of an international treaty being drafted, foreseeing FYROM’s accession to NATO when the country’s constitution has been revised to reflect agreed-upon changes. The treaty would be ratified by the parliaments of Greece and FYROM.

The aim is for enough progress to be achieved so that the two countries’ prime ministers, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, can discuss the issue ahead of an EU-Western Balkans summit scheduled to take place in Sofia on Thursday. The two leaders are to meet either late tomorrow or early on Thursday, with some reports indicating that two meetings are a possibility.

The key obstacle to a deal on the long-standing dispute, it seems, is still about the use of any name that is agreed on. Athens wants the agreed name to be “erga omnes” – used both domestically and abroad – but there is resistance in Skopje. Another point of contention is Greece’s demand for the agreed-upon changes to be reflected in FYROM’s constitution; not only is there opposition to such a prospect in Skope but the government lacks the necessary majority to pass such amendments in FYROM’s parliament.

The two sides have reached agreement on several “soft” policy issues, agreeing to boost economic cooperation as well as cooperation in their education and culture sectors. However, until all loose ends have been tied up there will be no final agreement between Athens and Skopje.

While it looks as if Skopje has missed the boat for approval for the launch of accession talks at a NATO summit in early July, it is possible that its candidacy could be deferred.

International pressure for a solution remains keen. Several top European officials, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk, have urged the two sides to redouble their efforts for a resolution of the decades-long dispute.

Some interventions have angered Athens. Last month, for instance, when European Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn said the dispute could be resolved within two weeks, the Greek Foreign Ministry described his comments as “unfortunate” and asked him to “stop undermining” the negotiations.

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