Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski and Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn today (2 October) signalled that the 17-year-old ‘name dispute’ between Skopje and Athens over the name ‘Macedonia’ may be nearing a solution.
Speaking to the press after meeting Commissioner Rehn in Brussels, President Crvenkovski announced that he expected a final proposal by UN mediator Matthew Niemetz to be made very soon after his meeting on 7 October in New York with both countries negotiators.
“Ambassador Niemetz has requested next Tuesday to meet the negotiators from both countries, Ambassador [Adamantios] Vassilakis of Greece and Ambassador [Nikola] Dimitrov and Martin Protoger [chief of staff to Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski]. The aim of the meeting is for both countries to make their remarks or request amendments following mediator Niemetz’s last proposal. On this basis, I expect that Ambassador Niemetz will be able […] to table a final version,” Crvenkovski said.
The Macedonian president added that his country would be ready to accept a “fair compromise, which would not prejudice our national and cultural identity in any way”. He called on Greece to show the same constructive spirit as his country was doing.
Commissioner Rehn also expressed optimism over the UN-mediated talks and commended UN negotiator Niemetz for his “stamina”. “I really hope this is the final round and we will have a settlement on this issue,” said Rehn.
Macedonia to recognise Kosovo
Crvenkovski also announced that his country would soon recognise Kosovo. Macedonia has been under pressure from the US to recognise the former Serbian province, while Serbia has been calling on Skopje not to do so. According to diplomats, Macedonia, whose large Albanian community sympathises with the Kosovars, has delayed its recognition of Pristina mainly for technical reasons, in the hope of solving border demarcation issues in the meantime.
Stern warning on EU progress
Rehn made it clear that Macedonia, which has been an official candidate for EU membership since 2005 but has not yet started accession negotiations, still had to fulfill a number of basic accession criteria before formal talks could begin.
“It is no coincidence that the first and foremost accession criteria are the political criteria […] of Copenhagen. These require stable institutions guaranteeing democracy and rule of law. These democratic criteria are absolutely fundamental, and in this context the political dialogue between parties and institutions is an essential element of a well-functioning democracy,” said Rehn, alluding to the recent institutional instability in the country and the conflict beween the president and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (EURACTIV 01/10/08).
Rehn also alluded to recent electoral irregularities (EURACTIV 02/06/08), saying Brussels would follow up on the electoral process in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Asked about his conflict with Gruevski, Crvenkovski said these were internal issues and thus he did not want to comment while in Brussels.
“We will discuss this in Skopje,” Crvenkovski said.