European Council President Donald Tusk said the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s (FYROM) chances of getting into the European Union are closer than ever because prospects of ending a name feud with Greece are getting better.
Tusk represents the heads of state of the bloc’s 28 countries on the council and visited FYROM’s capital of Skopje where he said, in the local Slavic dialect that, “A new and very promising chapter in your country’s history will soon begin,” Kathimerini reported.
“We have never been closer to getting a date for the launch of accession talks with the EU,” he said. Greece, using a veto as part of an accession process requiring unanimous consent, has blocked FYROM from getting into EU talks as well as barred its entry into NATO since the feud began 26 years ago when a New Democracy government allowed the country breaking away from Yugoslavia to use the name Macedonia - that of an abutting ancient Greek province - in what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement.
The stalemate developed when successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands, including Maceonia and the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, as well as Greek heritage, culture and history, including claiming Alexander the Great.
Negotiations, after a three-year break, picked up again earlier when this year when United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who has failed for two decades to find a solution, got the two sides together again.
That was amid speculation the US was keen to get FYROM into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans and a deal seemed closer than ever after Greece’s ruling anti-nationalist SYRIZA said it was willing to cede the name Macedonia forever and help that country get into the bloc and defense alliance.
But that stalled when FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who removed the name of Alexander the Great from his country’s international airport and national road and took down a statue of the Greek conqueror, said he wouldn’t change his country’s Constitution to remove claims on Greek lands and that he wouldn’t agree to use a new composite name both foreign and domestically.
FYROM is already called Macedonia by more than 140 countries, including the US, and wants to use that name domestically although reports said the two sides were ready to agree on allowing the use of Macedonia with a geographical qualifier such as Upper.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, speaking from Brussels following talks with his NATO peers, said his country would only agree to a new name “erga omnes,” for all uses, throwing up another obstacle.
“The other side has to understand that it must agree to erga omnes so we can move ahead to a comprehensive, positive agreement,” Kotzias said.
Kotzias and FYROM Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, a hardliner in an opposition party serving in a coalition with Zaev’s group, have been talking on and off with Nimetz in negotiations being kept secret from the residents of both countries.
European Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn expressed optimism that the name dispute could be resolved within two weeks before the Greek Foreign Ministry told him to butt out and to “stop undermining” the negotiations.