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News 18 Jun 15

Macedonia, Greece Mull Steps to Rebuild Trust

Macedonia and Greece are to consider a series of steps aimed at kickstarting ties between the two neighbours, frozen as a result of the long-standing ‘name’ dispute.

Ivana Kostovska

Macedonian Foreign Ministry | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Greek Foreign Ministry officials are expected in Macedonia on Thursday to determine a list of steps towards greater bilateral cooperation, a source from the Macedonian Foreign Ministry told BIRN.

Among the measures for cooperation being mulled, which will be presented later this month during the visit to Skopje of the Greek Foreign Minister, Nikos Kotzias, are the opening of a new border crossing in the Lake Prespa region as well as improving transport links between the towns of Bitola and Florina.

Further steps under consideration are improved cooperation between the two parliaments and between other institutions.

A foreign diplomatic source told BIRN under condition of anonymity that the boost to bilateral cooperation could indirectly help solve the years-long dispute over Macedonia's name to which Athens objects.

“The two ministers [Greece’s Nikos Kotzias and Macedonia’s Nikola Popovski] met several times and agreed to work on the proposed-measures for building trust. Ideas from both sides should help us better understand each other in future over the 'name,'” the source said.

Greece blocked Macedonia's accession to NATO in 2008 and is also blocking Macedonia's attempts to join the EU in connection with the dispute over Macedonia's name.

This is despite the fact that Macedonia obtained EU candidate status in 2005 and although European Commission reports have recommended a start to Macedonian membership talks since 2009.

Largely owing to the "name" dispute, relations between Athens and Skopje remain logjammed and the two sides have not signed a single bilateral treaty since 2007.

The same foreign diplomatic source told BIRN that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is interested in solving the "name" dispute, although the proposed trust-building measures are not going to be directly linked to the dispute.

“I do not exclude the possibility of pressure on both sides to solve the dispute, no matter if the mandate of a possible transitional government in Skopje is completely different,” the diplomatic source said, referring to the political crisis in Macedonia.

Talks between Macedonian opposition and government parties are ongoing over the possible formation of a transitional government that would prepare snap elections.

Prime Minister Nikola Greuvski is under pressure to step down after being accused of orchestrating the illegal surveillance of over 20,000 people.

The last round of UN-sponsored name talks took place last July, when the veteran mediator in the talks, Matthew Nimetz, arrived in the region. However, he admitted that he had not come with any fresh proposals.

Last November, BIRN revealed a potential name that Nimetz had suggested for Macedonia earlier, in April 2013 – "Upper Republic of Macedonia".

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