The foreign ministers of North Macedonia and Greece agreed Tuesday that bilateral ties have improved steadily since the two countries reached a deal that changed the name of Greece’s small Balkan neighbor.
North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, said bilateral trade and economic relations, in particular, have “deepened” since the 2019 agreement helped end decades of frosty relations with Greece, reported AP.
Formerly known as Macedonia, the country renamed itself North Macedonia in return for Greece supporting its efforts to join NATO — which it has — and the European Union.
After talks with Osmani in Skopje, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Athens supports its neighbor’s aim of joining the EU but that full implementation of the 2019 agreement is a vital prerequisite.
Dendias said Skopje has taken “important steps” in that direction, but he added that “there remains significant ground for correct implementation.”
As part of the name change deal, the government in Skopje implemented many practical changes, including altering its official letterhead. It started issuing passports and identity cards with the North Macedonia name.
But a new obstacle to North Macedonia’s EU accession bid has emerged. Its eastern neighbor Bulgaria — like Greece, already an EU member — opposes the country’s membership, citing a bilateral dispute over history and national identity.
Dendias’ visit, despite being discussed between Athens and Skopje for several months, coincides with a period during which Turkey has been exercising mild power in the Western Balkans.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan undertook a short tour of the region in recent days, while the governments of Ankara and Skopje reached a defense cooperation agreement that raised concerns in Athens.
Nonetheless, the protocols for the implementation of the 2018 Prespes Agreement do include defense cooperation between Greece and North Macedonia. What’s more, after the accession of North Macedonia to NATO, Greece conducted airspace surveillance with F-16s over its Balkan neighbor.
Dendias’ visit to Skopje also takes place during a prolonged pre-election period in the neighboring country. Local elections will be held across North Macedonia in October, and the Zaev government is facing a serious challenge from candidates backed by the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE.
Indirectly but clearly, the Zaev government is promoting good relations with EU countries and NATO as an electoral platform. / argumentum.al