Macedonia expects more resistance as name solution nears – minister

Russian Ambassador: "We will be happy to see the name issue resolved, but we will not applaud should Macedonia become part of NATO." [Shutterstock]

Macedonia’s deputy prime minister expects growing “external resistance” as negotiations on the name dispute with Greece get closer to a final deal which would unblock the country’s NATO and EU membership bid.

Bujar Osmani, Macedonia’s deputy prime minister for European affairs, told a panel on Thursday (7 June) that the next hours were crucial for the negotiations with Greece and reiterated that the country’s only path is towards NATO and the EU.

“My belief is that when we will be getting closer and closer to an agreement, the resistance will increase. In what form this resistance will transform these days I cannot predict,” he noted, speaking in English, warning that the collapse of the talks would have security consequences as well as economic and political ones.

He stressed that the name dispute also has a wider geopolitical angle as there are “external influences in the region”.

“It’s obvious that not all of the countries want Macedonia to become a member of NATO,” he said without elaborating.

On Tuesday, Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said that Moscow would be “happy to see the name issue resolved, but we will not applaud should Macedonia become part of NATO.”

However, when asked by EURACTIV.com if he suspects that Macedonia’s main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE is particularly under pressure from Russia to block a solution to the name dispute, Osmani replied: “I don’t think so”.

He said the VMRO-DPMNE had a new leadership and, while some of its members might attempt to derail the talks, he did not expect them to prevail.

EPP asks its parties to think “broad”

Another issue raised at the panel was the stance of the EPP, the EU’s biggest political family, on the name talks.

Last weekend, Hungary’s Prime Minister hailed the VMRO-DPMNE’s “wise and courageous leaders… who won’t bend under pressure from foreign powers”.

EURACTIV reported that Orbán “hails attempts to derail a solution to Macedonian name dispute.”

Macedonia’s MIA new agency quoted EPP sources as saying that it was EURACTIV’s “interpretation” of the comments made by Orban, who “was not clearly referring to the name talks”.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment on Orban’s statement and the Macedonia name dispute, an EPP spokesperson declined to comment.

“Mr Orban is sometimes absolutely unpredictable,” said Eduard Kukan, an EPP MEP on the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

Orbán hails attempts to derail solution to Macedonian name dispute

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán produced a video message on Saturday (2 June) supporting the efforts of Macedonia’s main opposition party to block a solution to the long-standing name dispute with Greece. He praised its refusal to bend “under pressure from foreign powers”.

He also noted that Orban had previously described the Nikola Gruevski-led VMRO government as “the most important stability factor in the Western Balkans”.

Referring to both Orban and the anti-migration Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), the winner of last week’s parliamentary election there, he said they were not hiding the fact that they sometimes have different ideas from the EPP.

On the Macedonian name dispute, he noted that all EU countries agreed there was now a great chance of resolving the issue.

Asked by EURACTIV what he had told Greece’s main opposition New Democracy party, which has also expressed concerns about the ongoing talks, he replied that the EPP delivered the same message as it did to VMRO-DPMNE.

“They should look at these issues from a broader point of view, taking into account all the complexities, the situation and the consequences of a positive or negative result of this issue, both for Macedonia and Greece.”

He also said that New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis had stated he would “at least not be completely negative.”

“Syriza has a safe majority in the parliament to pass an agreement”, Kukan said and added:

“Sometimes a leader has to see behind the corner […] has to be visionary”.

Referring to VMRO-DPMNE, he said, “we are speaking to them, we are telling them what is the interest of Macedonia and all political forces should contribute to a solution.”

Russia sees Western countries behind

In the meantime, Russia has reiterated its objection to Macedonia’s accession to NATO.

Speaking to journalists in Brussels on Tuesday (5 June), Ambassador Chizhov said the name dispute should have been settled long ago.

“We support efforts by both Athens and Skopje to resolve the issue. We understand that it is quite controversial domestically in both countries, in either country. And that is the result of the whole issue having been protracted for so many years.”

“Of course, we understand also that behind the ostensibly benign efforts of help coming from some Western countries, is a very simple wish: to see the Republic of Macedonia or FYROM, whichever you prefer, Russia has recognised it as the Republic of Macedonia, to see it become a member of NATO,” he noted.

He noted that Moscow views the enlargement of the EU differently from the enlargement of NATO.

“The enlargement of the EU is, I would say, a regional dimension of globalisation, whereas the enlargement of NATO is an attempt to address security risks and challenges of the 21st century with means and mechanisms of the mid-20 century.”

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