Despite optimism earlier in the year that a deal over the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) was within reach, the momentum after the more recent talks between the foreign ministers of both countries in the lakeside resort of Ohrid appears to have slowed down.
According to reports, foreign ministers Nikos Kotzias and Nikola Dimitrov have agreed on almost all peripheral matters, but there remains a gaping gap on core issues such as FYROM’s constitution and the scope of use of its new name.
Greece wants Skopje to rid its constitution of anything that can lead to irredentist claims over its own northern province of Macedonia.
However, Skopje disagrees with Greece’s “erga omnes” demand whereby the name agreed on will be used everywhere.
“We are quite close to a solution that will confirm the terms of identity, ethnicity and language,” FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told reporters on Sunday, adding that Skopje is not likely to agree, however, to Greece’s demands for changes to the country’s constitution and for the new name to be used in all cases, both domestic and international.
Skopje does not want to change references in its constitution to a “Macedonian” language and identity, which Greece does not recognize.
A telling indication that the initial enthusiasm appears to have subsided is the fact that the next meeting between Kotzias and Dimitrov will take place in almost three weeks’ time. The timeframe contrasts markedly with the three previous meetings between Kotzias and Dimitrov in Skopje, Ohrid and Vienna, which all took place within 20 days.
In between their meetings in Vienna on March 30 and 31, and Ohrid on April 11 and 12, Kotzias and Dimitrov examined a letter sent by United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz outlining the parameters of a possible solution. According to reports, the American diplomat reckons that only limited improvements can be made to the current state of affairs and therefore both sides should move on to a final agreement.
The slow progress also explains why the initial target of wrapping up talks by the end of March was not met. FYROM officials repeatedly expressed their desire for a deal sooner rather than later so it can hold a referendum before a NATO summit in July and kickstart its accession to the alliance. Greece has vetoed Skopje’s NATO membership pending a resolution on the name issue.