The President of the Party of European Socialists (PES), Sergei Stanishev, praised on Wednesday (16 May) the efforts by Athens and Skopje to resolve the long-standing name dispute and urged them to show “leadership” against nationalistic trends.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and FYROM’s Zoran Zaev participated at the PES preparatory gathering ahead of their bilateral meeting today on the sidelines of the EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia.
Both leaders seemed cautiously optimistic about the progress of the negotiation on the issue that has effectively blocked Skopje’s efforts to join NATO and the EU.
Asked about their meeting, Tsipras said he had “great expectations” while Zaev noted he expected “only success”.
“The socialist leaders welcomed our efforts so far to find a mutually acceptable solution to the name dispute,” Tsipras tweeted following the meeting.
“They pointed out that only progressive leaders could do it,” Tsipras added.
“I want to declare my firm support for Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev for their efforts to resolve the name issue, which has been stalled for 30 years […] I’m aware that there are nationalistic fears, but the political leader has to take all this in order to move things forward,” Stanishev noted.
Asked by EURACTIV.com if he had fears that the opposition parties in both countries could derail a potential deal between the two governments, he replied this would be a “great challenge”.
“It’s important for the political forces in Greece and Macedonia to think strategically,” he emphasised.
He referred to the Bulgarian-Macedonian friendship treaty, which was signed in August 2017 after a long period during which Macedonia was dominated by the hardline VMRO-DPMNE party [EPP] of Nikola Gruevski.
In the bilateral treaty, the countries committed to respecting each other’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity and renounce any territorial claims.
Stanishev pointed out that there were fears and mutual suspicion about the agreement as well, but since its adoption, there has been a “tremendous boost to trade for instance”.
“People want to look positively toward the future, not with fear,” Stanishev added.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the main opposition New Democracy party [EPP], said yesterday that a solution to the name dispute has, as a prerequisite, not only to be applied erga omnes, but also the constitutional change in the neighbouring country.
“The constitutional change is a precondition and our country cannot make any concession,” Mitsotakis said.
Greek pro-government media commented that New Democracy had made a U-turn considering that a couple of months ago it had noted that the negotiations should be halted and a solution sought at another time.
The leader of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), Joseph Daul, recently told EURACTIV.com that he hoped a mutually acceptable solution would be found and that his political force welcomes “this window of opportunity that could lead to concrete results”.
His statement triggered strong reactions in Athens with the government accusing Mitsotakis of being isolated on the case, even at the EU level.
Manfred Weber, leader of the EPP in the European Parliament, reacted by expressing his full political trust in Mitsotakis; however, he did not make clear if the EPP agreed with the New Democracy’s stance on the issue.
EURACTIV also contacted the EPP and asked if the issue of the Macedonian name dispute was discussed yesterday during the party’s preparatory meeting. By the time of this article’s publication, no response has been provided.
Later in the day, both Zaev and Stanishev took part in a talk show on the Bulgarian national television BNT. Zaev said among other things that Athens and Skopje had agreed on the name, but the anchor did not ask for more details.