Greek FM visits Skopje to build trust for ‘substantial’ talks on name dispute

In an interview with EURACTIV.com, Kotzias admitted that the current government in Skopje had toned down its rhetoric. [Prince Roy/Flickr]

Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias will meet on Thursday (31 August) with politicians in Skopje in order to build up further trust between the two countries. But it’s still “early” for a discussion about the name dispute, diplomatic sources told EURACTIV.com.

Kotzis will visit the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM-Macedonia) today, where he will hold meetings with his counterpart Nikola Dimitrov, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov as well as Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

Greece has longstanding objections to Macedonia’s name, which both countries claim.

The country’s internationally recognised name is the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), but Skopje would prefer to be called Macedonia, which is also the name of a northern Greek province.

In 2012, Bulgaria joined Greece in vetoing the opening of EU accession talks with Macedonia, despite a positive recommendation by the European Commission.

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 “Too early”

Greek diplomatic sources told EURACTIV it was still “early” to hold any substantial discussion about the name dispute.

The meeting will rather focus on “the identification of intentions” regarding the issue.

FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev recently signalled a possible shift in the country’s sour relations with neighbouring Greece.

In an interview with EURACTIV, Kotzias admitted that the current government in Skopje had toned down the previous rhetoric.

“On the substance, however, I have not seen anything new,” Kotzias said, urging the EU to “educate in the good sense Skopje’s leadership to the concept of political compromise and the culture of political consensus”.

Cultivating confidence

The same sources added that the primary objective of the visit is to “cultivate further trust” between the two parties.

Bulgaria and Macedonia start removing hurdles to relations

During new Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s visit to Sofia on Tuesday (20 June), it was announced that Bulgaria and Macedonia will soon sign a bilateral treaty, removing some obstacles to Skopje’s bid to join NATO and the EU.

After Kotzias’ initiative, Athens and Skopje reached an agreement in June 2015 to enhance their mutual trust via confidence-building measures (CBMs), which focuses on the fields of low politics.

The sixth meeting of this initiative took place last week and according to the Greek ministry of foreign affairs there was a “fruitful and productive discussion”.

Athens was recently disturbed by some incidents which, according to the Greek government, breached the spirit of the UN Interim Accord between the two countries.

The most recent was the participation of the country’s Canadian consul general at an event in which he gave an irredentist speech using as a background a map of the FYROM that included Greek territory.

Earlier in June, the FYROM’s consul general in New York posted to social media a photo of the Sun of Vergina – a solar symbol appearing in ancient Greek art – as well as maps of “Greater Macedonia.”