Greece views the official name used by Skopje – the Republic of Macedonia – as an open challenge to its own region of Macedonia and, as a result, is blocking the country's EU accession talks and its entry into NATO (see EurActiv LinksDossier).
"I understand the extreme sensitivities of this issue, but I call on all sides to resolve this obstacle as quickly as possible. It's time to decide. We believe now it is time to decide on this issue of the name," stated Barroso.
Since November 2009, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his Greek counterpart George Papandreou have been holding direct talks, with UN mediation, in an attempt to break the deadlock. Seemingly, progress has been made.
In June, the Greek press reported that an agreement was close, with Macedonia considering the idea of adding 'Vardar' to its name. Using Vardar – the name of the country's main river– would satisfy the demands of Athens (EurActiv 16/06/10).
An optimistic Barroso said he had seen "real willingness to find a solution" after contact with both sides, and called for a "final effort" to end the impasse. "I am more confident than I was some years ago," he added.
Ivanov: 'Greece is irrational'
Seen from other angles, however, a solution to the long-standing problem does not appear to be within reach. Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov described Greece's position as "irrational" and urged it to "act in a European manner". Instead of frustrating the negotiations, Athens should support and promote the process of European integration for the whole Balkan region, he added.
However, Ivanov added that he was encouraged by developments in recent months and spoke of "the restoration of trust and cooperation" between the two neighbours. He said that growing trade, tourism and university links had helped improve his country's relationship with Greece.
He also stressed that European integration remains the "highest priority" for Macedonia and hailed the positive impact of the EU's decision to lift visa requirements for its citizens last December.
Barroso urged Ivanov to keep up the pace of reform in a number of areas, notably political dialogue, the judiciary, corruption and organised crime. The European Commission will present its annual progress report on the country in November.
"The Commission remains committed to FYROM's European aspirations and looks forward to open accession negotiations as soon as the Council so requests," said the Commission president, alluding to Greece's veto over the name battle.
On Greece's insistence, in official EU papers Macedonia does not even appear under this name: it is referred to as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)".