German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it’s time for Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to set aside differences and find a resolution over a name dispute that has gone on for more than two decades.
Since Greece allowed its northern neighbor, which it calls FYROM, to use the word “Macedonia,” Greek governments have been trying to find a way to undo it, with no success.
But Greece has used the unsolved fight to block FYROM’s accession to NATO and slow its hopes to enter the European Union.
Merkel said the blame name game, in which the two countries take turns blaming each other for standing in the way of a settlement, has become a “burden” on Europe and she said they should pick a name even if neither of them like it.
“We can find a way to solve this problem,” Merkel said at the annual meeting of the Brdo-Brijuni Process between leaders of Southeastern European countries. “I have spent time on this issue and the names and possible combinations but sometimes I think there is nothing else to be proposed.”
This is her second major involvement in the name dispute. Last November she held talks with the United Nation’s mediator for the issue, Matthew Nimetz, in Berlin.
He has been unable to budge either side, as Greece fears FYROM still has territorial and political ambitions and has blamed Skopje for provocative acts, such as claiming Alexander the Great and naming its airport after him, and of coveting Greece’s second-largest city and port, Thessaloniki.
“In Germany we say that a compromise has been achieved when each side is equally unhappy,” said Merkel from the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, adding that a solution of the name issue would allow FYROM to progress with its efforts to join the EU and NATO, and take away Greece’s best bargaining chip for what it wants.
Greek diplomats were concerned recently that FYROM’s attempt to join NATO would be raised again at the organization’s next summit, in the Welsh city of Cardiff, in September but Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the enlargement of the alliance will not be on the agenda.
Another key problem for a settlement is that Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, when he was Foreign Minister two decades ago, so fiercely opposed use of the name Macedonia – the name Greece’s northern province which abuts FYROM – that it brought down the government.