'Big Greek companies' coming to N.Macedonia after name deal: PM Zaev

Skopje (Republic of North Macedonia) (AFP) –


North Macedonia will reap "huge economic benefits" from its name-change deal with Greece, the Balkan state's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told AFP Monday, on the eve of a landmark visit from his Greek counterpart.

Zaev recently completed a protracted and politically-dicey process to add "North" to his country's name in order to settle a decades-long row with Athens, who claimed exclusive rights to the name Macedonia for its own northern province.

The detente will be celebrated on Tuesday when Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras pays an official visit to North Macedonia's capital Skopje, bringing dozens of businessmen with him.

"Big companies with billions in annual revenues are coming," Zaev told AFP ahead of the meeting, citing Greece's Motor Oil, a petroleum company, and Mytilineos, an industrial conglomerate, as among those who will join the two premiers at a business forum on Tuesday.

Greek companies have already promised to invest more than "500 million euros" ($560 million) in North Macedonia's energy sector, plus other investments in concrete and agriculture, he said.

"The Republic of North Macedonia will have huge economic benefits from the deal that I believe will be seen in every area of the economy," Zaev said.

The small Balkan state, home to around two million people, is much smaller and poorer than EU-member Greece.

Athens had moved to isolate its neighbour in recent decades by vetoing the former Yugoslav republic's efforts to join NATO and the EU, a blockade Greece promised to lift after the name change.

Although the neighbours kept up trade during their nearly three-decade row -- aside from a 1994 embargo levied by Greece -- economic links were somewhat limited by the political ill-will.

Before Zaev came to power, relations dipped significantly when the previous administration went on a building spree to erect neoclassical buildings and statues of Alexander the Great, the king of ancient Macedon who became a symbol of the dispute as both countries claimed him as their own.

The Skopje statues enraged Athens, who accused Macedonia of stealing its culture and heritage.

Under the name deal, Skopje is required to review monuments that draw from Hellenic history.

Speaking to AFP, Zaev said metal plaques will be laid before some sites to "clarify that this is part of the global cultural heritage".

"There are some initiatives for institutional exchange of monuments, like exchange of gifts between two friends," he added, without elaborating.