Not quite a week off on the Greece-Macedonia/FYROM Name Dispute

People walk over the old Stone bridge in front of the monument of Ss. Cyril and Methodius Apostles to the Slavs in Skopje. EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKI

Greek Foreign Minister Kotzias expects a “major step” at the April 12 Ohrid meeting


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Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias spent much of the Greek Orthodox “Holy Week” briefing Greek political parties on the state of the Greece-Macedonia Name Dispute negotiations, surprisingly without generating massive headlines. In most cases, Kotzias met directly with the respective party leaders, except for the main opposition party New Democracy which made the level of contacts a political issue by placing conditions on the briefing.

Instead of New Democracy President Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Kotzias was offered a meeting with the party’s shadow Foreign Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos. A minor sparring match ensued when Koumoutsakos noted the briefing served to intensify his party’s concern about the pace of the Name Dispute negotiations. A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry noted that Koumoutsakos “did not express any reservations or concerns during the briefing, which lasted for more than two hours, and only made constructive comments.”

After his Kotzias briefing, the leader of the small Union of Centrists party, Vassilis Leventis, revealed to the press his reading of the briefing was that the deal was essentially done, with Skopje prepared to concede on almost everything if Athens accepts a compound name including Macedonia.

We learned a few details of a so-called Greek “Plan B,” mostly through leaks to the Greek media in connection with this week’s political leaders’ briefings. “Plan B” is basically an attempt to keep negotiations alive in case an agreement cannot be reached before the NATO Summit in July, or if the considerable list of Greek prerequisites for a final deal such as amendment of the Macedonian/FYROM constitution simply can’t be completed quickly, which to many observers already seems unlikely.

The idea would be for both parties to present a joint declaration at the July NATO Summit that leaves the negotiations in a positive, continuing mode and avoids a complete meltdown if the spring talks drag on.

This “Plan B” concept also covers a major concern of the Greek side, which is that Athens might be pressed by outside parties to accept fewer points of agreement than it currently will agree to in view of the tight timeline some countries have been pointing to for the admission of Macedonia/FYROM to NATO later this year.

It also provides an escape valve of sorts in case Athens decides that with the Turkish diplomatic front requiring massive attention as well as a slowly re-emerging refugee crisis grabbing the headlines, the Name Dispute negotiations need to be put on a lower priority track, something most Greeks can easily accept.

At the Good Friday (for the non-Orthodox world) Vienna meeting March 30, Kotzias told the press that he was ready for a “major step” at the next meeting.

The next bilateral meeting in the Name Dispute negotiations will be held in the lakeside city of Ohrid, not far from the Macedonia/FYROM border with Albania. That session is set for April 12, in conjunction with a swing through the region planned by Kotzias.

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