Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Thursday appeared to be edging toward a solution on a longstanding dispute over the latter’s name following talks between the countries’ prime ministers on the sidelines of a summit in Sofia.
The aim is for a deal to be reached in time for a European Council meeting on June 28 though it was unclear how realistic this goal might be.
According to sources, a possible solution being proposed by European officials is “Upper Macedonia.” That might not go down well, however, with the Greek leftist-led government’s right-wing junior partner, Independent Greeks, which has pledged to reject any solution containing the name “Macedonia.”
FYROM’s premier Zoran Zaev appeared more upbeat about the prospects for an agreement Thursday, with Alexis Tsipras suggesting that, although progress had been made, it was too early to talk about a deal. “I believe we have covered a great part of the distance, but we have more to cover,” Tsipras said, adding that negotiations remained complex and “multilayered,”
“We are not yet in a position to speak about a deal,” he said following talks with Zaev on the sidelines of a summit of EU and Western Balkan leaders. “We have reached a critical point but the last steps are always more difficult,” he said, adding that “we have the pressure of historical responsibility but FYROM has the pressure of time,” referring to Skopje’s ambitions to join the EU and NATO.
Zaev sought to issue a more confident message. “We have discussed one solution to the name dispute that could be acceptable for both sides, but we need to have further discussions in our countries.”
Tsipras said he hoped for a meeting with Zaev before the EU summit in June, saying the goal is for a comprehensive deal that would “stand the test of time.”
Zaev said the two sides would continue talking “even if we miss the June deadline,” noting that the purpose of a solution is “to strengthen the dignity and identity of the citizens in both countries.”
If a deal is reached in June, the aim is for it to be sealed with a symbolic meeting of the two premiers in Prespes, northern Greece, near Lake Prespa, which is shared by Greece and FYROM as well as Albania.
The key obstacles in ongoing United Nations-mediated talks between Greek and FYROM diplomats is Greece’s demands for the agreed-to name to be “erga omnes” – meaning that the same name is used domestically and internationally – and for FYROM’s constitution to be purged of references that Athens deems to contain irredentist aspirations.