Greece, Macedonia to meet with little expectation

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Greek and Macedonian leaders are to meet on the sidelines of next week's EU summit amid few indications that they will make in headway in the dispute over national identity that has prevented Macedonia from starting accession talks since becoming an EU candidate seven years ago. 

Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos recently invited his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Gruevski to meet in Brussels during the 1-2 March Summit, the first between the two since Papademos was appointed on 11 November 2011. Greece is expected to hold elections before Easter.

"For the name issue, our position is that it should be resolved through meaningful negotiations under the auspices of the UN; therefore, I encourage you to work towards this goal in a constructive manner," Papademos wrote in a letter to Gruevski.

Macedonia said it "welcomed the consent" of Greece for holding a high-level bilateral meeting, hinting that Skopje has been more active than Athens in initiating such contacts. However, until yesterday afternoon (21 February), Macedonia's mission to the EU was unaware if Gruevski would attend.

Greece and Macedonia have been locked in a dispute over the smaller country's constitutional name since it became independent from the crumbling Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece, which once imposed a punishing embargo on its neighbour, claims the name implies territorial ambitions on its northern province of the same name.

ICJ ruling and NATO bid

The International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled in December that by blocking Macedonia's NATO bid in April 2008, Greece breached a bilateral agreement signed in 1995. Under the accord, Greece said it would not prevent its neighbour's accession to international organisations so long as it is referred to as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (FYROM).

In the meantime, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov wrote to the heads of state and government of NATO countries, asking them to "repair the injustice" of the 2008 summit. In view of the next NATO summit due in May in Chicago, Ivanov asked the 28 leaders to take into account the ICJ ruling and accept his country as NATO member.

Following the ICJ ruling, Macedonia could realistically expect to be accepted as NATO member under the name the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Greek President Karolos Papoulias met with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on 16 February and reportedly conveyed the message that his country wanted to reach a "mutually acceptable solution" over the name dispute. Reportedly, Papoulias also complained that Skopje persisted in appropriating history and even asked Rasmussen to help overcoming the problem.

PM avoids Commissioner

Papademos and Gruevski will put a brave face and meet, but it is doubtful that they would make any progress on their name dispute, one diplomatic source told EurActiv.

Another diplomat saw the glass as half-full: even if the meeting turns out to be a photo opportunity, that would already be something positive, the EU source said.

The reason for the pessimism stems for the latest visit of UN negotiator over the name dispute, MatthewNimetz, who met on Monday Gruevski in Skopje.

According to European Commission sources, the meeting was disappointing. Nimetz is due in Athens today.

Asked if Gruevski was going to hold meetings at the European Commission, a source from the EU executive said no such request had been made. The official added that Gruevski was avoiding visiting the Commission and seeing Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle, who has been very critical of recebt nationalistic actions in Skopje, seen in Athens as "provocations".

Timeline: 
  • 1-2 March: EU Summit in Brussels and anticipated meeting between the Greek and Macedonian prime ministers.
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