Madrid says breakthrough imminent on Macedonia

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Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said he believes a solution to the long-standing 'name dispute' between Skopje and Athens will be reached soon.

Speaking to the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee yesterday (4 February), Moratinos appeared upbeat when questioned about the 'name dispute' opposing the two neighbouring countries.

The 'name dispute' between Greece and Macedonia recently deferred an EU decision to open membership talks with Skopje (EURACTIV 08/12/09). 

Questioned by MEPs, he said he believed the Spanish Presidency "can achieve a solution with respect to Macedonia" and praised the "very good" attitude of the new Socialist government in Greece.

The Spanish foreign minister was asked if the EU was prepared to appoint a special EU representative to the region, a position which would be similar to that of Matthew Nimetz, a US diplomat who is the UN's special representative on the name dispute.

Moratinos did not reject the idea, but suggested that adding more negotiators was currently not on the EU presidency's radar. He added that he will be travelling to Macedonia himself "very soon".

According to the Balkan press, Nimetz will visit Skopje and Athens in the next two weeks, with "new ideas".

In another diplomatic move, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski called his Greek colleague George Papandreou on Wednesday, inviting him to meet in Macedonia "or [at] any other venue, determined under mutual agreement".

"The meeting should contribute to the further development of bilateral relations and to the efforts for settling the only open issue between the two countries," a press release reads.

Croatia to close chapters

Moratinos said that he would also visit Croatia, again expressing optimism that the candidate member's border dispute with EU neighbour Slovenia could be solved.

Last November, Zagreb and Ljubljana signed a border arbitration agreement, which helped unfreeze Croatia's EU accession negotiations, but the problem as such remained unsolved and could still negatively affect Zagreb's accession ambitions (EURACTIV 04/11/09).

Moratinos added that Croatia was an "absolute priority," and that two chapters from the accession talks would be closed this month.

Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas recently presented his country's position on the 'name dispute' in an interview with Greek-language New York daily 'Ethnikos Kiryx'.

Droutsas said the previous US administration of George W. Bush had "complicated things," as it had sided with Macedonia and recognised its constitutional name.

He added: "The position of Greece is clear: We are seeking an erga omnes name with a geographical qualifier. We think that the United States can play a constructive role in this effort and that is why it is important for the US to have a clear view of Greek positions."

"It is clear and it has been pointed out with unanimous NATO and EU decisions that the solution of the name issue is a precondition for our neighbouring country's progress on its Euroatlantic course," he said.

The EU's inability to pressure Greece to respect a 1995 accord stipulating that Athens may not block bids by Macedonia to join international organisations has encouraged the growth of more radical nationalistic positions in Macedonia, writes Gjergji Vurmo, director of the Centre for European and Security Affairs at the Tirana-based Institute for Democracy and Mediation.

In an article published by Balkan Insight.com, Vurmo argues that Macedonia, but also other prospective EU members from the Western Balkans confronted with "bilateral" problems, "may start to lose interest" in the merits of EU integration.

In April 2008, Athens vetoed Macedonia's invitation to join NATO, arguing that the name 'Macedonia' could lead Skopje to make territorial claims over Greece's own northern province of the same name (EURACTIV 04/04/08).

Similarly, Macedonia still finds itself unable to start accession talks with the EU, despite the fact that it received the status of candidate country as early as December 2005.

Upon Greek insistence, in official EU papers, Macedonia does not even appear under this name: it is referred to as 'the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)'.

Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has repeatedly warned that the unsolved 'name dispute' with Greece could negatively affect Macedonia's EU agenda. Meanwhile, UN-sponsored talks to solve the dispute have made no progress.

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