With the Name Dispute negotiations off the front burner in Athens, both countries involved in the negotiations (Greece and FYROM/Macedonia) focused on other important issues this week but simultaneously prepared themselves for two new rounds of bilateral meetings in early May.
While there are still statements coming from both sides that an agreement is actually not that far off, the expectations for an agreement before the summer has receded in both countries.
Having signalled earlier that summer 2018 deadlines for resolving the Name Dispute don’t currently seem workable, the Greek side has been preoccupied with other major issues such as tense relations with Turkey and the slowly re-emerging refugee crisis in view of the steady increase in cross-border arrivals.
Nonetheless, two new rounds of bilateral discussions between Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Macedonia/FYROM Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov are set to be hosted in Greece in early May (May 4 and 11-12) on the sidelines of other regional events.
In Skopje, the focus in the past week has been on Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s efforts to organize a mini-reshuffle of his government. He has been in close contact with the small Albanian BESA party as well as with the larger Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, focusing on the distribution of ministerial posts, according to observers in Skopje.
The political significance of such a move is as high as it would increase Zaev’s flexibility in gathering votes — in view of his slim parliamentary majority today — when the time comes to revise the country’s constitution. Zaev noted earlier this week that constitutional revisions would be needed to permit the country’s EU accession, providing an opportunity as well as the political cover to manage two issues simultaneously whenever it comes time to deal with the changes that Greece is asking for in the Name Dispute negotiations.
Eyebrows were raised April 27 when European Council President Donald Tusk addressed the Macedonian/FYROM Parliament in Macedonian (Tusk is a native Polish speaker, so this feat takes some work), doing what he could to present a positive image of the country’s future EU accession prospects.