20th Aug 2019

EU hopes Greek-Macedonian name dispute could end soon

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn on Thursday (2 October) expressed hopes that the 17-year-old 'name row' between Greece and Macedonia is reaching its final stage.

"It is important to settle the name issue, which is a bilateral issue between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece, and … I sincerely hope that this almost eternal issue could finally be settled," Mr Rehn told a news conference in Brussels.

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  • Statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki, the main city of the Greek northern region of Macedonia. (Photo: EUobserver)

Greece has refused to recognise its neighbour's constitutional name – the Republic of Macedonia – since it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 because a northern region in Greece is also called Macedonia and Athens fears allowing Skopje to use the name will open the way to territorial claims.

"I hope really that this now will be the final round and that we will have a settlement of this issue," Mr Rehn added, referring to a new round of UN-monitored talks on the subject to take place next week.

For its part, the international community has used 'Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)' as a "provisional" term designating the country since 1993 - with both Athens and Skopje disagreeing on the long-term use of this appellation.

Separately, Macedonia's name for itself has been recognised by some 120 other countries worldwide, including Russia, the US, China, Canada, Turkey, as well as a number of EU states – such as Bulgaria, Slovenia, and the UK.

Also speaking at the press conference, Macedonian president Branko Crvenkovski said both Macedonia and Greece would present UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz with their latest suggestions on Tuesday (7 October), and expressed hopes Mr Nimetz would then come up with a "final proposal" to solve the 17-year-old dispute.

Macedonia ‘prepared for a fair compromise'

"The Republic of Macedonia is prepared for a fair compromise that will not go against our cultural and national identity and I hope that the Republic of Greece will [also] show some flexibility," the Macedonian president said.

He did not give details, however, as to what the compromise may be and admitted internal disagreements between the country's prime minister and himself on how to solve the problem.

For his part, Mr Rehn praised the efforts of the UN negotiator in the process and encouraged him to continue the same way.

"Mr Nimetz has shown over the years plenty of stamina, and I hope he still has for this final round enough stamina and determination to get things done," the commissioner said.

Macedonia has been an EU candidate country since 2005, but has yet to start accession talks.

Separately from the persistent name row with Athens, Skopje has to fulfill eight political criteria - or benchmarks - that Brussels has set up before it can start the membership negotiations.

These include better "dialogue between political parties, implementation of the law on police and anti-corruption legislation, reform of the judiciary and public administration, as well as measures in employment policy and for enhancing the business environment."

The European Commission will release a report assessing the progress made by Macedonia, as well as by the other EU hopefuls from the western Balkans and Turkey, in the beginning of November.

Macedonia name dispute 'holds hostage' EU credibility

Macedonia is ready to start accession talks with the EU and the fact that the old dispute with Greece over its name is hindering the process harms not just Skopje, but the EU's credibility as well, Macedonian foreign minister Antonio Milososki told EUobserver.

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