Saturday, 20 October 2018 | News today: 6

Nimetz’s Brussels meeting – first attempt in three years to break the deadlock

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No concrete proposal to solve the name dispute has emerged from the first meeting with UN name mediator Matthew Nimetz. The meeting served as an attempt, after a three-year stalemate, to establish contact as part of the negotiations, to create a climate for opening of the process, according to diplomatic sources.

This week’s meeting in the longstanding dispute, spanning three decades, cannot paint a detailed picture of Greece’s readiness for compromise, even though the two sides have been demonstrating optimism hinting at a possible solution, the diplomats says.

At the moment, speculation over a concrete name proposal helps no one, because now it is imperative to heighten the readiness to resolve the matter.

In the process, it is important for Macedonia to get to a point where no one will be able to dispute the fact that we are Macedonians, because identity is what matters the most, alongside the perspective opened in the process of integrating into the EU and NATO.

A change of the name of the Skopje Airport shouldn’t be an issue, being a likely first step or gesture of good will on Macedonia’s part, which might demonstrate its willingness for a solution to be found.

The entire process requires attention to be paid on the political context in the two countries and on public mood with respect to the issue.

The Macedonian side stands ready to change its approach to the issue – to abandon the practice of attacks and confrontation and to start making steps of rapprochement with Greece. “With this country we should be allies, instead of foes,” the diplomats urge.

This process of vital importance for the country, however, has been hampered by developments involving the opposition, say diplomats pinpointing the public narrative that has been used thus far that contributed to Athens heightening its defensive approach. To establish an internal consensus is no easy task given the fact that most of the opposition decision-makers are faced with court proceedings in connection to the events of April 27 in Parliament. Also, the Greek government lacks a unified position regarding the name dispute in view of the positions of the Defense Minister Panos Kammenos involving the name issue.

However, it is almost certain that Macedonia will be included in the EU Enlargement Strategy of the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, slated for release in February 2018. Also, the EC could unveil a recommendation for start of accession talks some time in the beginning of April, before releasing its regular progress report.

No matter the circumstances, both internal and external, there is still a chance – the first one after the 2008 Summit in Bucharest, say the diplomats adding: If we miss the train in 2018, no one can know what kind of circumstances in Europe we can run into after European Parliament elections.

Unlike 2008, when the pressure from the international community for Macedonia to join NATO was intense, now the pressure is less evident although it is in everyone’s interest to see Macedonia as part of NATO, instead of being a deserted island in the Balkans.

There is a fair chance that the NATO General Secretariat by April could issue a report about the bilateral issue with Greece and the country’s reform process.

We are left with only six months to pursue this road. About EU and NATO accession, a name settlement isn’t the only precondition as the whole reform process of the country will be subject to evaluation, the diplomats conclude.