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Zaev and Tsipras reviewed possible option for the name

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The European Union pledged Thursday new promise of membership to its partners in the Western Balkans, but without no firm signal – accession date, while the meeting between Macedonian and Greek PMs Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras generated media interest in Sofia whereat several EU officials spoke about name dispute negotiations with a hope of resolving the issue, MIA reports in Sofia.

“The EU reaffirms its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans,” it said in a joint declaration on May 17 after a summit in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.

The declaration said the EU was “determined to strengthen and intensify its engagement at all levels” and vowed to “substantially” enhance “connectivity in all its dimensions: transport, energy, digital, economic, and human.”

Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev and Greek PMs Alexis Tsipras held meeting on the sidelines of the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia on Thursday.

Macedonia and Greece have identified an option that could be acceptable for both sides, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told a press conference in Sofia after a meeting with Greek colleague Alexis Tsipras on Thursday.

PM Zaev said meeting with Tsipras has confirmed the agreement reached by the countries FMs. “It is important to reconfirm the achieved success, we had detailed discussions and we reviewed several options,” Zaev told reporters. According to him, one of the options is a solution that is acceptable for both sides.

Negotiations between Greece and Macedonia on the former Yugoslav republic’s name have reached a ‘crucial’ point but more needs to be done for a solution, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Thursday.

‘I believe we have covered a great part of the distance, but we have more to cover,’ Tsipras told journalists. ‘We are not yet in a position to speak about a deal.’

Tsipras said he hoped for a meeting with Zaev next month and Athens hoped for a deal that would ‘stand the test of time’, Reuters reports.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel showed interest for Zaev-Tsipras meeting.

They recognize leadership which Macedonia demonstrates and give support to strengthening ties between us and EU, Zaev underlined.

On the sidelines of the EU-Western Balkans Summit, Zaev also met with Swedish and Dutch counterparts Stefan Lofven and Mark Rutte, Estonian and Belgian counterparts, Juri Ratas and Charles Michel and Austrian PM Sebastian Kurz who gave their unconditional support and recognition to what the country has achieved as well as encouragement the country to stay on EU path.

European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn voiced optimism in Sofia on Thursday that Macedonia and Greece will reach a solution to the name dispute. He did not want to discuss any time frames, however.

“I’ve always been optimistic. And I’ll stay optimistic. The two PMs are on the right track,” European Enlargement Commissioner Hahn said, commenting the meeting between PMs Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras.

Asked if he thought it possible that the name dispute would be solved before the EU Summit in June, Hahn said that it was a month away and anything was possible.

The citizens’ overwhelming support of Macedonia’s aspirations for EU and NATO membership is proof enough that there is no other alternative for the country. Macedonia’s citizens share the same European values and deserve an individual estimate of the country’s progress according to its achievements. This is what PM Zoran Zaev said during his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the sidelines of the EU-Western Balkans in Sofia on Thursday.

Greek New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said that a solution to the name issue must be both comprehensive and uniform. According to him, a necessary condition is not only erga omnes but also constitutional revision in the neighbouring country, ANA-MPA reports.

A summit between the leaders of the European Union and the Western Balkans partners in Sofia today confirmed the European perspective of the region and set out a number of concrete actions to strengthen cooperation in the areas of connectivity, security and the rule of law.

The summit and the resulting Sofia Declaration stress the importance of the Western Balkans’ continued commitment to the rule of law, the fight against corruption and organised crime, good governance, as well as respect for human rights and rights of persons belonging to minorities. The effective implementation of reforms in these areas is key for the region’s further progress along the European path. EU and Western Balkan leaders agreed to take a number of actions to improve energy and transport infrastructure, as well as digital connectivity in the region. The EU and Western Balkans partners also laid the ground for an ever closer cooperation in the areas of security, migration and in tackling geopolitical challenges.

In financial terms, the EU pledged to provide grants for an additional 11 high-priority transport projects worth €190 million, primarily for two motorways. “This investment can leverage up to €1 billion in loans from international financing institutions,” it said in a statement.

In order to develop the new Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans, the EU has also earmarked €30 million for investments in broadband roll-outs across the region. Another project is to reduce mobile roaming fees both within the region and with the EU.

The UK fully supports a name row settlement, said the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, at a joint press conference Thursday in Skopje alongside her Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev as part of her official visit to Macedonia.

Resolution will bring clear benefits to both countries and also to the region as a whole, she told the news conference.

“Just 18 months after Parliamentary elections, we’re already seeing significant changes and a government that is working hard to uphold the rule of law, reach out to its neighbors and make progress in negotiations on the name issue. I know that both Macedonia and Greece are working closely to find a solution and this requires political courage and a willingness to make difficult decisions. Resolution will bring clear benefits to both countries and also to the region as a whole. And you can rely on the UK’s full support in this,” May noted adding: “We want to see Macedonia continue on this positive path.”

PM Zaev accompanied by Deputy PM for Economic Affairs Koco Angjusev will attend Friday Vienna Economic Forum which will be held on the sidelines of EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia.