The prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Zoran Zaev, stressed on Wednesday that his country remains committed to NATO and European Union membership.
His comments came ahead of his crucial meeting on Thursday in Sofia with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras over the name dispute between the two countries.
“Macedonia has no alternative to NATO and the EU,” Zaev said at an event organized by the European Commission and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in the Bulgarian capital, before the official start on Thursday of the EU-Western Balkans summit.
The country’s efforts to join NATO and the EU have been blocked by Greece, which says the name “Macedonia” implies a territorial claim over Greece’s own northern region of that name.
Zaev added that failure to meet this political ambition would stoke nationalistic tensions and encourage “interventions” not only in FYROM but in the wider region as well.
For his part, Tsipras said in a Twitter post on Wednesday that the last measures to be agreed in a deal are “always the most difficult.”
Moreover, when asked by journalists about his expectations for Thursday’s meeting, he said they “are very big.”
According to several sources, the EU is playing an active role to find a solution to the decades-long dispute, which includes efforts within FYROM to lay the groundwork for the approval of a deal, if it is reached.
Current reports suggest that the negotiations are aiming for an international treaty with EU guarantees that the terms of the deal will be fulfilled.
Tsipras and Zaev are expected to meet again after Sofia while further talks between foreign ministers Nikos Kotzias and Nikola Dimitrov before that have not been ruled out.
A major stumbling block to a deal is Greece’s insistence that the agreed name will be used ergo omnes – namely that the same name will be used internationally and domestically – and that FYROM changes its constitution to rid it of anything that can be construed as irredentist.
To overcome these hurdles, Athens has reportedly prepared a package of its own concessions that will also aim to maintain the distinct identity of FYROM’s residents. Greece does not recognize that there is a Macedonian ethnicity and language.