A deal to resolve the decades-old name dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is expected to be finalized Tuesday between prime ministers Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev.
The two men held a phone conversation Monday in a “good atmosphere” and will speak again Tuesday. If all goes as planned, Tsipras will inform Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and political party leaders.
Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias told Kontra TV Monday that a “decisive step” was taken to end the dispute, adding that three names were still on the table and that Zaev had already made a decision.
The two sides are in a race against time to secure a deal before the European summit on June 28 and 29 so that FYROM can join NATO and try to begin European Union accession talks.
Given the time constraints and the opposition Zaev has faced at home, Athens appears to have pursued a more diplomatic approach despite its recent public comments that the ball is in Skopje’s court.
Tsipras also faces opposition from within his government, namely junior coalition partner Independent Greeks (ANEL), whose leader, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, plans to hold a press conference today at 11 a.m.
ANEL has repeatedly said it will not back any composite name that contains the word “Macedonia.”
Referring to Monday’s conversation between the two leaders, a close aide to Tsipras said “their communication via diplomatic channels was constant in recent days and necessary in order to keep the process alive and so that certain issues move ahead.”
The two men reportedly agreed on a series of changes to the text agreed by their two foreign ministers, Nikos Kotzias and Nikola Dimitrov.
According to confirmed reports, the main topic tackled Monday was the issue of how the new name for FYROM will be used.
Greece wants it to be used erga omnes – nationally and internationally. Zaev reportedly insisted that some exceptions be made so that FYROM’s current constitutional name can be used domestically in certain cases.
The two men also discussed the contentious issue of “Macedonian” ethnicity and language which is referred to in FYROM’s constitution. Greece does not recognize that there is a Macedonian ethnicity and language.
Tsipras and Zaev reportedly explored ways to strike a balance in the wording of the agreed text so that there is clear distinction between today’s FYROM and ancient Greek Macedonia.