Name Dispute negotiations: Getting closer, but is this just a matter of sequencing or is it deeper?

Name Dispute negotiations: Getting closer, but is this just a matter of sequencing or is it deeper?


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While the negotiations over the Greece-Macedonia/FYROM Name Dispute returned to a faster track after the visit of UN Mediator Matthew Nimetz to Athens May 12-13, it remains unclear whether significant progress can be expected at the meeting(s) between the two countries’ prime ministers on the sidelines of the EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia, Bulgaria May 17-18.

A series of leaks to the Greek media, timed just after the Nimetz-sponsored talks between Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Macedonian/FYROM Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov near Sounion, south of Athens, indicated that all sides have prepared draft agreements, including Nimetz.

Included in at least one of them was the concept that Greece might give approval for the NATO and or EU accession processes to proceed — via some form of interim agreement — before the requested constitutional revisions have been completed by Skopje. These concepts are reported to form the basis for discussions to be held in Sofia while Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonian/FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev attend the EU-Western Balkans Summit. The possibility of multiple meetings between the leaders in Sofia is envisioned, with the first coming as early as on the evening of May 16, shortly after the leaders arrive.

While there is clearly room in Sofia for diplomatic maneuvering and discussions of the sequencing of the diplomatic and legal processes needed to approve any potential deal, on May 15 Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos told the semi-official Athens-Macedonia News Agency that core issues remain unresolved.

Referring to both constitutional revisions by Skopje and the “erga omnes” (a single name for use in all purposes) questions, Katrougalos said “These are not small issues, and at the moment Skopje is insisting. The ball is in their court.” For there to be a deal, there must be “a necessary concession by the other side,” he explained. The lack of focus on the precise formulation of the compound name itself indicates both sides have some flexibility, but at least in Greece any compound formulation using the word “Macedonia” entails a heavy political cost and will be a factor in the next Greek election cycle.

American diplomacy has been less visible than that of the EU on the Name Dispute as of late, including in a detailed May 15 phone conversation between EU Council President Donald Tusk and Tsipras. This could change soon as Greek Foreign Minister Kotzias is planning a Washington visit around May 21. While the Name Dispute is only one of many critical regional issues Kotzias will need to discuss in detail with his American interlocutors, he will undoubtedly come under pressure to do what is needed to get an agreement, which likely means Greece will be challenged to reconsider its negotiating stance on the remaining hard issues.

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