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News 05 Sep 13

Fresh Macedonia Name Talks Announced

The UN mediator in the Macedonia-Greece 'name' dispute, Matthew Nimetz, will visit Athens and Skopje next week in a fresh attempt to hammer out a compromise.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

UN mediator, Matthew Nimetz

Nimetz is expected to arrive in Athens on Monday and meet Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos and possibly Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

Afterwards, he is expected to visit Skopje in Macedonia.

Nimetz arrives in the region ahead of the December European Council when EU enlargement and Macedonia's accession process will again be discussed.

“Diplomatic sources say they do not know whether Nimetz is carrying some new [name] proposal, or the previous one, ‘Upper Republic of Macedonia’, which deeply upset the Greek side,” the Greek newspaper To Vima noted after the visit was confirmed.

In April, during the last UN-sponsored round of name talks, the envoy tabled a fresh proposal for a solution to the dispute. Nimetz refused to divulge his suggested formula but media reports speculated that it contained some version of the words "Upper Macedonia".

Observers said Athens would have been happier had the geographical qualifier "Upper" been used before the word "Macedonia" rather than before "Republic", which specifies the political system of the country.

Macedonia obtained EU candidate status back in December 2005, and European Commission reports have recommended a start to membership talks each year since 2009.

But the country has never been offered a date for EU accession talks, nor an invitation to join NATO, owing to a Greek blockade related to the dispute over its name.

Greece insists that Macedonia’s name implies territorial claims to its own northern province, also called Macedonia.

Nimetz’s fresh visit to the region comes at a time of strained relations between the two sides.

In July, Macedonia’s Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, requested a meeting with his Greek counterpart to speed up talks on overcoming the longstanding dispute.

Samaras refused, insisting that Greece was not the party blocking Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic accession but that this was a decision of the European Union and NATO as a whole.

However, the Greek Foreign Minister, Venizelos, on Monday did meet in Athens with Ali Ahmeti, head of Macedonia’s junior ruling party, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, DUI.

The DUI said the two men tackled the name issue but did not discuss concrete ideas.

The meeting raised questions back in Macedonia about whether Ahmeti had acted on his own or in coordination with Prime Minister Gruevski.

In his official response to the meeting, Gruevski said he only welcomed “all attempts ... to help in the dispute between Macedonia and Greece”.

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