25th Mar 2018

Greek government collapse not helping Macedonia

The Greek government collapse and the advent of a new team of technocrats demanded by international lenders cast bleak perspectives for solving a long-standing dispute with neighbouring Macedonia over the country's name, say politicians dealing with the region.

In his farewell speech in the Greek parliament last week, outgoing Prime Minister George Papandreou said "the new government must and can move immediately for the settling of the name issue." But observers are sceptical that this will be the case. Greece is opposing to the former Yugoslav state's name of Macedonia, which coincides with one of its historic regions.

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  • Macedonia's nationalistic drive is not helping either (Photo: Dnevnik/Macedonia)

"A solution to the name issue will be definitely not on the top 3 of the priority list of the technical transition government. The debt crisis will be paramount," German Liberal MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, who drafts the Parliament's reports on Macedonia told this website. In his view, the ball is in Skopje's court to "take actively initiative" to come up with a compromise solution.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, a former mediator after the Balkan wars in the mid-90s, on Monday (7 November) tweeted: "Worry the government collapse in Athens will also stop discreet talks on solving Macedonia name dispute with Skopje. Can this be prevented?"

Apart from having pressing economic and social issues to deal with, the new Greek transitional government - still in the making - will also be under a stronger influence from the hardline nationalistic opposition led by Antonis Samaras, whose stance is that Macedonia should change its name to something else because "our Macedonia" is and "exclusively Greek and blessed place."

A verdict expected in December by the international tribunal in the Hague should be an opportunity to finally settle the 13-year long dispute, said Papandreou. The case was lodged by Skopje accusing Athens of having breached an international agreement when it blocked Macedonia's accession to Nato, in 2008.

Greece claims that the former Yugoslav republic also violated the agreement when it started naming highways and airports with the name of Alexander, an ancient Greek king and re-writing history by claiming he was Macedonian. The Hague verdict, if not postponed further - as it already had been expected in September - is however unlikely to give a clear-cut stance on who is right.

On the EU side, Greece is blocking the start of membership negotiations with Macedonia, which the European Commission recommended already in 2009. A new meeting in December by EU ministers will look at the issue again, but it is unlikely to move forward unless something happens on the name front.

The EU is not directly involved in mediating the name issue, which is done by the United Nations. According to Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, no meeting has been organised on the issue since summer, mainly due to Athens' other, more pressing, problems.

But in an interview with Radio Free Europe, the new foreign minister, Nikola Popovski, said his country does not want the EU or any international arbitration on the issue, which would be binding for the two parts - a signal that Skopje is not advancing on the matter either.

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