North Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said he could work with a New Democracy government if the Greek Conservatives leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis – a critic of a deal that renamed Greece’s neighbor, wins July 7 snap elections.
Zaev and Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for the deal that saw the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia be rebranded North Macedonia, giving away the name of an ancient Greek province.
That was opposed by two-thirds of Greeks, a big reason, said analysts, why SYRIZA candidates took a pounding in May 26 elections for the European Parliament and Greek municipalities, and New Democracy is a big favorite to win the national elections.
Mitsotakis wasn’t happy with the deal although it was his late father, then-Greek leader Constantinos Mitsotakis, whose government in 1991 agreed to let the new country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia to take the name of Macedonia as FYROM.
That was seen as a temporary deal but after successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands, culture, history and said there was a Macedonia language, Greece used a veto to keep its neighbor out of NATO and opening European Union talks.
Those were lifted by Tsipras but Mitsotakis suggested he could still block North Macedonia’s EU hopes over issues the New Democracy leader said are damaging to Greece, including North Macedonian companies branding products as Macedonian.
Mitsotakis told industrialists from northern Greece that his government – if elected – will promote and highlight the Macedonia brand name and upgrade the roads in the region and, said Kathimerini, as he hit a target audience that Tsipras lost over the deal.
Addressing the Greek Exporters Association (SEVE) in Thessaloniki and the heart of Macedonia, he said that his aim is that the Macedonia brand name “will not only declare a location with a special history and culture, but also the production of high-quality and internationally tradable agricultural and industrial goods. This way growth will be promoted by both tourism and exports.”
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Zaev said neither country could benefit from bringing back issues that were part of the agreement.“It is up to the Greeks to select their government but the settlement of the name issue entails many advantages for both countries – and this regardless of who is in power,” Zaev said in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
“I do not think that the situation will become more difficult,” he was quoted as saying despite Mitsotakis saying he wants to put some aspects back on the table for discussion and as Zaev admitted not everything agreed has been done.
“Parts of our agreement with Greece still need to be implemented, such as the issue of passports and other documents bearing the country’s new name or the revision of history textbooks,” Zaev acknowledged. “These could complicate our accession talks at any time,” he said, referring to getting into the EU.
During a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin Thursday, Zaev said he had received a pledge that the German Bundestag will approve a start to North Macedonia’s accession talks in September.
“There is a strong conviction that we are starting EU accession talks this year,” the government in Skopje said in a statement, but no initial confirmation from Berlin.