Greece, Macedonia name row talks in 'final stage': minister

Athens (AFP) –


Talks to end a decades-old row between Greece and Macedonia over the name of the former Yugoslav republic are in "the final stage", the Macedonian foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov said Monday after negotiations in Brussels.

Dimitrov made the comment to the Greek state agency ANA after meeting his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias on Sunday on the sidelines of EU foreign ministers' talks.

"Negotiations will continue between experts on legal and technical issues," said Dimitrov, saying that the deal was in its "final stage" and could be agreed before a scheduled EU summit at the end of June.

The name dispute between the two countries dates back to 1991, when Skopje declared independence from war-torn Yugoslavia.

Athens objects to the neighbouring state's constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia, because Greece has its own northern province called Macedonia, and fears it may imply territorial ambitions.

Greece wants the change of name to be backed with a constitutional amendment and for it to be applied on the "erga omnes" ("towards all") legal principle, meaning universal use inside and outside Macedonia.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she held an "informal working breakfast" with Dimitrov and that discussions were moving forward.

"We are all very encouraged by the progress made especially on the negotiations between Skopje and Athens on the (Macedonia) name issue. We will all work to support and accompany, hopefully, a positive outcome of these important negotiations," Mogherini told media before attending the EU foreign ministers meeting.

Names already put forward and in discussion include "New Macedonia" and "Upper Macedonia".

A telephone conversation could take place this week between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev to finalise the deal, Dimitrov said.

Kotzias said that the two foreign ministers had "finished the work that their prime ministers had entrusted to them".

"When the legal and technical issues will be clarified, the texts will be returned to both prime ministers, who must discuss and finalise the agreement," he said in a statement.

The name dispute has slowed Macedonia's hopes of joining the European Union and NATO, as Greece can veto the country's membership bids.