Despite intense ongoing diplomatic sparring with Turkey on Greece’s Aegean front, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias was able to keep his March 29-30 Vienna appointments with Macedonia/FYROM Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov and UN Mediator Matthew Nimetz.
This session with the UN’s Nimetz had been scheduled even before Kotzias’ “historic” Skopje visit March 22-23. Both countries’ foreign ministers had a bilateral dinner meeting March 29 upon arrival in Vienna to review progress. After a long session at the Austrian Foreign Ministry March 30, which is celebrated as Good Friday in Austria, Nimetz laid out the formula by which work would continue in the coming weeks. Both foreign ministers plan to meet immediately after Orthodox Easter (April 8) to begin work to narrow remaining differences.
Prior to departing Athens, Kotzias had scheduled a series of meetings with leaders or representatives of Greek political parties to brief them on the negotiations during the upcoming Greek Orthodox “Holy Week.” Correctly or not, this was immediately interpreted by some analysts as a signal that an agreement was closer than most observers had thought and then seized on by some opposition politicians to accuse the Syriza-Independent Greeks (ANEL) coalition of mishandling the talks and preparing to offer premature concessions.
This will be clarified in the coming week but is hard to accept this interpretation at face value in view of a large number of thorny open issues in the dialogue. Numerous Greek commentators see the talks as having failed already and believe the issue now is how to escape blame for the failure, with a particular focus on the difficulty the Skopje government faces in delivering constitutional changes that remove irredentist implications, as the Greek side expects.
At the same time, the political talk in Athens remains focused on the potential for a split between key leaders in the Syriza-ANEL coalition if the word Macedonia is part of the agreed compound name, potentially triggering elections. An additional complication the Syriza-ANEL government faces is an idea being discussed in Greek parliamentary circles of requiring a supermajority of 180 (out of 300) for any potential agreement to be ratified, essentially guaranteeing non-ratification.