ATHENS – Although North Macedonia hasn't completed all aspects of a deal which allowed its renaming, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said he supports that country's hopes of joining the European Union.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who was attending an EU meeting in Slovenia on the issue of Western Balkan countries’ accession, had said he would first require North Macedonia to fulfill terms of the so-called Prespes agreement.
That was made by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, whom he castigated for giving away the name of the abutting Greek province of Macedonia and other terms that let North Macedonia companies call their goods Macedonian.
North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski came to Athens to meet Mitsotakis before the Premier left, after the session with Sakellaropoulou, who has mostly symbolic duties.
She said that, “I would like to reaffirm the importance we attach to the enhancement of bilateral relations and North Macedonia’s European perspective. The full, consistent and good faith implementation of the Prespes agreement is crucial for the implementation of both goals,” she said.
Greece will still require that while simultaneously giving North Macedonia the imprimatur it wanted, as she welcomed Pendarovski, the first head of state from his country to visit since independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
Pendarovski agreed with Sakellaropoulou that there are pending issues to be settled and added that his country is “willing to implement the agreement to the letter,” said Kathimerini.
Mitsotakis gave Greece's support for North Macedonia as well as the other five Western Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia – to get into the EU despite runaway corruption and gangsterism in some.
EU Enlargement officials are more hesitant than Greece because some of those countries still have bitter differences, especially Kosovoa and Serbia while Bulgaria and North Macedonia have been at odds.
The Associated Press reported that it saw a draft declaration in which EU members are expected to reaffirm their commitment to the enlargement process but stop short of providing a clear deadline as usual.
Sakellaropolou said during an official dinner in honor of Pendarovski that, “As countries sharing borders, Greece and North Macedonia have an even greater responsibility before their peoples to collaborate and strengthen our bilateral relations based on respect of the principle of good neighbourliness and international law, to the benefit of our countries and the region in general.”
Greece now seems to be leaning more toward trade instead of political differences as she said that economic relations between the two countries is key to moving on.
Pendarovski said he was honored to be the first President from North Macedonia to visit Greece and that, “We had waited 30 full years for this visit, and have come as friends.”
He said the Prespes Agreement signed three years ago, which resolved a complicated issue between the two countries, “was a difficult step for the two countries but we succeeded, to the benefit of our common future.”
That opened the door – with Greece's support – for North Macedonia to get into NATO and edging toward EU membership even while not meeting the terms of the deal and occasional provocations over its name and references to being Macedonian, as the country's passports state.
Mitsotakis said it's been 18 years since the EU-Western Balkans Summit held in Thessaloniki in 2003, which he said “opened the European gates to western Balkan countries for the first time.”
“Time is running out,” he underlined, “and if the European Union is absent from this region, there is no doubt that others will rush to fill the void.”