ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) agreed on Tuesday to make a renewed effort to settle a dispute over the latter’s name which has been dragging on for decades and holding up its aspirations of joining the EU.
Athens has blocked the ex-Yugoslav republic’s attempts to join NATO and objects to its EU membership bid because it says the name Macedonia implies a territorial claim over Greece’s own northerly region of that name.
“We are committed to finding a solution in this six months,” said Bujar Osmani, FYROM’s deputy prime minister responsible for European affairs. “2018 is the golden year of opportunity for my country to make progress in terms of Euro-atlantic integration. That is why we are committed to finding a solution.”
Under a 1995 accord, Greece has only agreed that the country be referred to as the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, as an interim measure until the dispute is resolved.
It will not acquiesce to the country joining NATO or the EU, of which Greece is a member, under the FYROM banner.
Osmani, who was visiting Athens, said he believed there was a “sincerity and commitment”‘ by Greece to resolve the issue.
Greeks are very sensitive about the name issue, and rallies were planned in northern Greece later in January against any compromise which may use the name Macedonia.
But Athens says there is now a window of opportunity to resolve the row following the election of a more moderate government in the neighbouring country which appears more amenable to a deal.
“Right now the issue...is to create conditions for the widest possible consensus to put behind us a problem which has weighed on the country, and the wider region, for the past twenty five years,” Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said.
Greece and FYROM were due to hold a new round of talks with a United Nations mediator in late January.
The Balkan state declared independence from ex-Yugoslavia in 1991 but almost immediately found itself at loggerheads with Greece.
“There are a lot of emotional layers. We need to peel them off to find a rational solution,” Osmani told reporters after meeting Greek officials.
Reporting by Renee Maltezou, writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Angus MacSwan