The prime ministers of Greece and North Macedonia met on the sidelines of the Thessaloniki 2019 Summit on November 14. This was their second meeting since Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis assumed power in July, the first one being in New York on September 24 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

The Thessaloniki Summit is largely a business event but has for years served as a platform for high-level regional and bilateral side meetings between participants outside of the official program. Accordingly, keynote speeches by senior leaders are almost routine. This year, Mitsotakis met separately with Zaev and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.

The first Mitsotakis meeting with his North Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev in September was relatively uneventful with Mitsotakis and Zaev staking out their respective positions in a star-studded environment where their bilateral meeting was a relatively low-interest event in a week when New York and the international media were fully occupied with global leaders.

Thursday’s Thessaloniki Zaev-Mitsotakis meeting by default had a higher profile since so little else of global significance was happening at the same time in Greece. It was also the first meeting the two leaders held on Greek soil, although this was not an official visit, nor was it connected with former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ April Skopje visit.

EU Summit shock waves have not fully subsided

The impact of the October EU Summit, which effectively put all Enlargement discussions for Albania and North Macedonia on hold until France can submit proposals to revise EU procedures and mechanisms, dominated the Zaev-Mitsotakis session and much of the Thessaloniki Summit as well.

The good neighbour’s helping hand

Having been given the opportunity to play the advocate for Albania’s and North Macedonia’s EU accession aspirations thanks to France’s veto in October, Mitsotakis reportedly offered Zaev technical assistance to help in the EU accession process once it is underway. However, this is not the first time Greece has provided such support to countries negotiating with Brussels and is a fairly standard offer.

Zaev told the press after the meeting that he had invited Mitsotakis to visit Skopje. Zaev also stated that Mitsotakis undertook to raise the accession issue directly with French President Emmanuel Macron and that Greece had “already developed an action plan” to advance the issue.

Greek sources indicate Mitsotakis focused on the need for Skopje to continue efforts to implement the Prespes Agreement in support of improved bilateral relations, but also underlined the need for enhanced regional cooperation, a subject almost every Greek leader taps into with Balkan counterparts.

Prior to the meeting, Greek officials revealed their concern that implementation of the Prespes Agreement could stall in the months leading up to the April elections in North Macedonia and the long-planned Zagreb EU Summit on Enlargement in May under Croatia’s EU Presidency.

Bilateral contacts have not been in short supply. Prior to Mitsotakis’ meeting with Zaev, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias met Zaev and North Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov in Geneva on November 8 on the sidelines of the Strategic Dialogue of Western Balkans leaders, organised by the World Economic Forum.

Although Washington did not dispatch any senior officials to this year’s Thessaloniki Summit, US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt faithfully reiterated Washington’s views in support of rapid NATO and EU expansion into the Western Balkans. Pyatt also met privately with Zaev on the Summit’s sidelines.

Taking action on trademarks

Concerns regarding the handling of trademarks for Greek products originating in the part of Northern Greece known as Macedonia have been a major issue for the Mitsotakis Government, and the prime minister has placed a high priority on responding to the high volume of complaints from the business community in Northern Greece that claim the 2018 Prespes Agreement leaves their products unprotected.

Accordingly, while in Thessaloniki, Mitsotakis attended the gala launch of a new series of trademarks and slogans for Greek products from Macedonia.
The new logo features a white “M” against a blue background, the combination of which are universally recognised as Greek colours.

The new trademark’s motto is “MACEDONIA THE GREAT,” reminding all those who see it of the history of the Ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedonia and its most famous ruler.

The trademark also has several sectoral mottos for specific categories of products. Some of those which were revealed with Mitsotakis present will be “Great Tech,” “Great Land,” “Great Wine,” and “Great Food,” covering the sectors of technology, tourism, wines, and food products, respectively.

Once registered with the EU’s Intellectual Property Office, the new trademark will be made available to every company in Western Macedonia, Central Macedonia and Eastern Macedonia as well as Thrace.