With only three months to go before a critical NATO summit in Bucharest that could potentially approve the admission of new members, the foreign ministers of Greece and Macedonia/FYROM continued to press for resolution of the bilateral Name Dispute that has long held up both NATO and EU accession for Macedonia/FYROM.
Meeting on April 11 and 12 at the lakeside Ohrid resort town in southwestern Macedonia/FYROM, both sides again attempted to close the substantial list of outstanding issues but made limited progress. Reports indicate that a draft agreement provided by UN Mediator Matthew Nimetz formed the basis for the Ohrid discussions. A high-profile no-confidence vote in Skopje challenging Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s policies towards Greece and Bulgaria framed the background of the talks; Zaev’s supporters were able to beat back the challenge with a slim 62-seat lead in the country’s 120-seat parliament.
This week’s encounter was part of Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias’ latest Balkan swing, which also includes stops in Serbia and Kosovo. The town of Ohrid was politically symbolic for this meeting as it was the venue for concluding the 2001 Ohrid Agreement which ended the armed Albanian insurgency in Macedonia/FYROM and provided guarantees for broader multi-ethnic power-sharing arrangement between the country’s Slavic and Albanian ethnic groups.
Initial comments from both sides indicated there was a detailed review of outstanding issues but did not indicate an agreement was close. “Our discussions were sincere and covered all the issues under negotiations — on some, there was progress, on others differences remain,” Macedonia/FYROM Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said after the meeting. More than the name itself, Kotzias explained that tackling issues of irredentism remained the most important for his country. “There were positive steps. The issues that remain become the tough issues, but hopefully they will become easy ones,” Kotzias said.
Prior to the Ohrid encounter, there was talk of a possible new meeting between the prime ministers of both countries as witnessed in Davos in January. There was no mention of that after the Ohrid sessions, but a decision to move to that level is not off the table.
Meetings between Kotzias and Dimitrov will continue, with two sessions already planned at other regional events set in Greece in the first half of May. The risks remain high in both countries of an energetic rejection by nationalists as well as other parties if an agreement is seen to be incomplete and to have been reached in haste or forced on the parties by the approaching NATO Summit.