The Prime Minister of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, was in Brussels today (5 December) and gave the best talk show in town for many months, speaking at the Centre for European Policy Studies.
Unfortunately, as the event opened, it was announced that he will speak off the record, but Zaev granted EURACTIV the right to quote part of his comments. How much? 65% he said jokingly.
Great CEPS event with Macedonia PM Zoran Zaev pic.twitter.com/9WF0ZWanLt
— Georgi Gotev (@GeorgiGotev) December 5, 2017
So here is 65% of what Zaev said. Asked how he hoped to solve the name dispute with Greece and unlock his country’s NATO accession, as well as possibly start membership negotiations with the EU, Zaev said it’s clear that tectonic shifts are occurring. He spoke without a translator and his messages were very clear.
He conveyed the message that the long-standing name issue can be solved, with mutual concessions from both sides. He gave the example of his government solving the country’s controversies with Bulgaria, which in nature are not different from those with Greece.
Zaev emphasised getting strength and legitimacy from what the public opinion wants. In the case of the agreement with Bulgaria, he reminded that his political foes from opposition VMRO-DPMNE thought he would lose the local elections, counting on triggering an early general election.
In fact, Zaev’s SDSM social-democrats won, and 22% of the ethnic Albanian population voted for his force, which is an absolute precedent in Macedonian politics.
He hinted that in Greece too, the public opinion was tired of more than two decades of the status quo.
The bottom line is that NATO can take Macedonia on board with a provisional name even before the name dispute is solved, and in a similar way Macedonia could start EU accession negotiations, pending a final solution to the name dispute. Member countries hold veto rights throughout the accession process and Greece would therefore not put its interest at risk.
Macedonia obtained the status of an EU candidate in 2005 and without the name dispute, it could have had successfully concluded the negotiations and possibly even joined the Union by now. As an example, Croatia, another former Yugoslav republic, obtained candidate status in 2004 and joined in 2013.
Zaev was teased by several cheeky questions like whether his country would change the name of its airports. Greece was offended when Skopje airport was named after Alexander the Great, also known as Alexander of Macedonia.
Zeav said this should not be an issue. He actually said more than that but we will still sick to the agreed 65%.
Someone from the audience called his election victory in December 2016 “an electoral revolution”. In the same vein, somebody else said he was “the Macron of the Balkans”. Zaev smiled.
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Views are the author’s