Greece prefers to continue the UN-mediated process with Macedonia.
By Biljana Lajmanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 24/01/13
EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle (left) and Macedonia Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski hold a news conference in September 2012. [AFP]
The EU is getting more involved in working toward a solution to the long-simmering name dispute between Greece and Macedonia.
EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle invited the sides to a trilateral meeting aimed at helping resolve the name dispute between the two countries. It was the first direct attempt by Brussels to get more involved in the name issue negotiations that are led under the auspices of the UN.
Although Greece declined the invitation, it appears that the EU will at least be a close observer.
Stevo Pendarovski, member of the diplomatic council of the Macedonian opposition and former presidential adviser, told SETimes he anticipates Füle will "remain as close as possible to the negotiation process, but he will not be a substitute for [UN special representative Matthew] Nimetz, nor a second facilitator of the process. He will literally be an observer."
Peter Stano, Füle's spokesman, said that the EC would take a back seat to the UN.
"We said repeatedly that it is a UN-led process," Stano told reporters in Brussels. "Mr. Nimetz is engaged very intensively in this and we are fully supporting him."
Greece has blocked Macedonia's UN membership and integration into the EU over the longstanding dispute. Greece, which has a northern province called Macedonia, sees the issue as a threat to its own territory. Macedonia is referred to in the UN as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Füle proposed the joint meeting in order to gather more detailed information on the issue. Macedonia Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski publicly supported the plan, but Greece has resisted.
"Our intention is to … find a solution," Gruevski said. "If their intention is similar, they should not avoid such meetings. I hope we will have more meetings like this in future, both with and without mediators."
Greece foreign ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras said Athens is not opposed to meetings in principle, but the country would only agree to them under the condition that there is good preparation and a substantial result.
"The Greek side looks forward to the upcoming meeting of the representatives of the two sides with Mr. Nimetz in New York on January 29th and 30th to ascertain the extent to which there are prospects for progress. At this stage there is no issue of a meeting of the ministers of the two countries with Mr. Füle," Delavekouras said.
Former Macedonia Foreign Minister Antonio Miloshoski told SETimes that proposing a trilateral meeting is similar to the initiatives Füle used to solve the dispute between Croatia and Slovenia.
"Although Croatia was at a different stage of EU accession then, we can be pleased with such attention that apparently was lacking in the last years," Miloshoski said.
The EU Council in December instructed the European Commission to prepare a report on Macedonia and its relations with neighbouring countries. The document -- which is expected to centre on the name issue -- will be crucial in the decision of the EU Council whether to allow Macedonia to start accession negotiations.