Greece and North Macedonia signed a number of crucial agreements on Tuesday (2 April) to enhance their economic and military collaboration following a historic visit of Greek premier Alexis Tsipras to Skopje.
More than 100 Greek businessmen and 10 ministers accompanied Tsipras during his visit in the Balkan country, where he met with his North Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev.
Despite fierce domestic opposition, in June 2018, Greece reached a breakthrough deal with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), the so-called Prespa Agreement. The deal resolved a 25-year dispute over the country’s name, agreeing on ‘North Macedonia’ to replace FYROM.
The deal opens the NATO door to Skopje while Athens is now pushing its EU partners to also open the EU accession process for North Macedonia at an EU Council meeting next June.
Tsipras and Zaev signed agreements which aim to strengthen ties between the two countries. At the same time, though, on a communication level, the leaders want to show the tangible results of the deal, considering that Tsipras told MIA news agency that the political cost of the deal has been high.
“Since the two countries have signed the Prespa Agreement, we are constantly writing history,” Zaev said.
“We are trying to create a different narrative about the Balkans, contrary to nationalisms historically associated with the region,” Tsipras commented.
The two countries signed a number of deals ranging from transport and energy to digitisation, agriculture and health.
Most importantly, in an effort to build up mutual trust, the defence ministers of the two countries, Radmila Šekerinska and Evangelos Apostolakis, signed a military agreement including training and protection of North Macedonia’s airspace.
“The signing of the agreement between the two defence ministers includes important and critical areas of military training, defence and technology, cybersecurity, military intelligence and air traffic control of Northern Macedonia by the Hellenic Air Force,” Tsipras said.
“We will be monitoring the airspace of North Macedonia (including civil aviation) to help North Macedonia’s radar for the safety of flights in its airspace,” Tsipras added.
Together with Italy, Greece already monitors in a rotation the airspaces of Albania and Montenegro, both NATO members.
However, the Greek public broadcaster ERT reported that in this case, Skopje did not want Turkey, also a NATO member, to be involved at all in the air policing, neither bilaterally nor in terms of the Alliance.
The Greek government says that with the Prespa Agreement, Turkey’s influence in the Balkan regions will be weakened.
“Our country has an upgraded role in the region and instead of having our northern regions against us and siding with Turkey, we will have them with us to solve together all the issues in our region,” former foreign minister Nikos Kotzias said in February.
In the recent period, Turkey has drifted apart from the US and NATO and has got much closer to Russia.
[Edited by Georgi Gotev]