The European Union is “very confident” Macedonia will settle a long-running row with Greece over its name before July, the EU commissioner responsible for enlargement said today (16 February).
Athens has long objected to Macedonia’s name, arguing it suggests Skopje has claims to the territory and heritage of Greece’s historic northern region of the same name.
The row, which has festered since Macedonia’s independence in the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991, has hindered Skopje’s plans to join NATO and the European Union.
Asked if the row could be settled by the end of Bulgaria’s presidency of the bloc, which ends in June, the EU’s Commissioner for Neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations Johannes Hahn said he was “very confident about this”.
Hahn was speaking as he arrived for talks in Sofia between EU foreign ministers and their counterparts from candidate countries to join the bloc.
Arrival and doorstep by #EC @JHahnEU at the #Gymnich meeting "It is a good opportunity to see our colleagues from the #candidatecountries and further strengthen our cooperation on #security and #defence" https://t.co/ycZEDIg7Hf
— EU Council TV News (@EUCouncilTVNews) February 16, 2018
The EU last week unveiled a new plan to give membership to Western Balkan states, including Macedonia, but said they must settle disputes before they can join.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said last week his country was ready to make a concession by adding an extra geographic designation to its name.
Suggestions have included Upper Macedonia, Northern Macedonia, Vardar Macedonia and Macedonia-Skopje.
Greek objections meant that Macedonia joined the UN in 1993 as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov told reporters in Sofia his country had matured and no longer needed “roots back 2,000 years to feel self-confident”.
“It’s better to cooperate and compete on things that matter today than compete on who had more glorious victories and defeats in our rich history,” he said.
“We have the same approach towards the difference we have with Greece.”
As part of efforts to reconcile with Athens, Macedonia last week renamed Skopje’s Alexander the Great airport, which becomes International Airport Skopje.
But in a sign of the challenges at stake, earlier this month many thousands of people protested in Athens urging the Greek government not to compromise on the name issue.