The Name Dispute has again fallen from the headlines in Northern Macedonia and Greece, as the public focus in Skopje is on April’s Presidential elections and in Athens observers have focused on a myriad of issues, but especially on preparations for Greece’s constitutional revisions, likely next year, and certain other legislation the government of Alexis Tsipras is attempting to pass before the country settles into election mode.

This shift of focus, although temporary, provides breathing space for both countries to come to terms with the wide range of changes called for under last June’s Prespes Agreement that was fully ratified in January and has entered into force.

Presidential elections in Northern Macedonia move to centre stage

North Macedonia’s ruling Social Democratic Union (SDSM) has nominated Skopje’s coordinator for NATO membership, Stevo Pendarovski, as its candidate for the largely ceremonial post of president. Delegates at the party’s 23rd Congress in Skopje approved the 55-year old Pendarovski March 3 as its nominee in the April 21 presidential election. Pendarovski also has the support of several smaller parties, including the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, a junior partner in the ruling coalition.

Pendarovski was the SDSM presidential candidate in 2014 as well but lost to President Gjorge Ivanov who was backed by the conservative nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, currently the main opposition party. Ivanov, who strongly opposed the Prespes Agreement but was unable to block its ratification although he tried at several junctures, leaves office on 12 May and cannot run again due to term limits. Even at this late date, he refuses to approve documents sent to him for signature by the government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

The main opposition VMRO-DPMNE has nominated law professor Gordana Siljanovska Davkova as the country’s first female presidential candidate.

Greek industrialists request treaty to avoid double taxation

The Greek Association of Industrialists (SBE) sent a letter on 13 March to Finance Minister Euclides Tsakalotos, calling for the signature of a tax treaty with the Republic of North Macedonia (also known as a treaty for the avoidance of double taxation) in order to facilitate bilateral trade and investment. That request provides Tsipras with a handy deliverable in the “business facilitation” category for his upcoming trip to North Macedonia.

Exchange of monuments issue and new border crossing

North Macedonia noted on 12 March that a rumoured plan for the exchange of monuments with Greece does not exist. The official declaration came in response to reports from media outlets in Skopje, quoting Greek Minister of Culture Mirsini Zorba as saying that she had proposed that authorities in Skopje send the monument of the “Warrior on a horse” to Athens and for the monument of the “Runner” to be transferred to Skopje.

Zorba categorically denied the media reports.

An agreement to open a new border crossing near the Prespes lakes was signed in Skopje on 8 March, by North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov and Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Sia Anagnostopoulou who was in Skopje for a two-day working visit that obviously focused on preparations for Tsipras’ planned visit to North Macedonia.