The Macedonian and Greek Prime Ministers have agreed to intensify UN-sponsored talks on their long-standing ‘name’ dispute, announcing a set of concessions aimed at showing their good faith during their first meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

By Sinisa Jakov Marusic, BIRN

At a joint press conference with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras following their meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said that his government will rename the country’s main airport and the highway towards Greece, both currently called Alexander the Great, with alternatives that would not provoke the Greek side.

In an overt show of an attempt to soften relations between their countries, Zaev stated that the highway to neighbouring Greece will be named “Friendship”.

“Our actions show our good faith. This testifies to the fact that we have no irredentist aspirations towards our neighbour,” Zaev said.

On the Greek side, Tsipras said that as a sign of good faith, his government is also ready to make concessions and allow its neighbour closer cooperation with the EU and other regional initiatives.

“I am referring to the candidacy of our neighboring country to the Adriatic-Ionian initiative and to the promotion of the ratification of the second phase of the association agreement with the EU in the Greek parliament,” Tsipras said.

Both Prime Ministers announced that they agreed to increase their efforts in the ongoing UN-sponsored talks for finding a solution to the 25-year-long name dispute between them.

Instead of the appointed name negotiators, from now on “The ministers of foreign affairs will be in charge of the negotiations under our auspices. (…) This will allow the process to become more dynamic and substantive,” Zaev said.

While Zaev said that any solution to the name dispute, which has been blocking Macedonia’s EU and NATO accession aspirations, must not jeopardise the identity of his country, Tsipras underlined that such a solution for a new name of Macedonia must be Erga Omnes, a Latin term meaning “towards everyone”.

The “name” dispute centres on Greece’s insistence that use of the word Macedonia implies a territorial claim to the northern Greek province of the same name. Athens insists that a new name must be found that makes a clear distinction between the Greek province and the country.

As a result of the unresolved dispute, in 2008, Greece blocked Macedonia’s NATO entry and it has also blocked the start of Macedonia’s EU accession talks, despite several positive annual reports from the European Commission on the country’s progress.

Zaev and Tsipras’ meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum was the first direct meeting between a Macedonian and a Greek prime minister in seven years. 

It was also the first meeting between Zaev and Tsipras following Macedonia’s change in government in May last year, and since both countries moved to warm their relations and restart the “name” talks after three years of stalemate.

Back at home, Macedonia has an equally challenging task of building a common stance between all of the key political players in the country on the latest set of ideas for a name solution that UN mediator Matthew Nimetz handed to both sides.

For that reason, Macedonia’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said that a “coordination meeting” of all the political party leaders, including President Gjorge Ivanov, has been set for Saturday in Skopje.

The main opposition right-wing VMRO DPMNE party, which in the past played hardball on the name issue, confirmed to MIA news agency that its president, Hristijan Mickovski, would be attending this meeting.

The effort to build an internal consensus comes ahead of Nimetz’s announced visit to Skopje and Athens. He is expected to arrive in both capitals sometime next week to get both countries’ takes on his latest proposals.