Macedonian and Greek premiers set to meet in Brussels on name issue
Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski indicated Wednesday that he is likely to meet his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou, in Brussels to discuss a naming controversy that has divided the two countries for the past 19 years, DPA reported.
"It could be considered that the chances for such a meeting are great," Gruevski told reporters after meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Greece and its northern neighbour have been at loggerheads over the right to the name of "Macedonia" since 1991, when Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia. Athens blocked Skopje's entry into NATO and European Union accession negotiations over the issue.
Greece justifies its stance by claiming that its own northern province of Macedonia would be subject to territorial claims if Skopje were allowed to use its self-declared name, the Republic of Macedonia.
Barroso said both sides need to find a solution urgently.
"Identity questions are certainly important, but it is even more important that the past does not hold the future hostage," he said.
A United Nation envoy, Matthew Nimetz, has been trying for years to find a compromise name that suits both sides. In the meantime, Macedonia is known in EU and United Nations circles with the provisional title of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
The country has also been recently reprimanded by Brussels for failing to curb a rise in EU-bound asylum seekers after the bloc scrapped visa restrictions for its citizens.
"Visa-free travel does not give the right to seek asylum or to work in the EU," Barroso warned, reiterating that Macedonia risks losing unhindered access to the border-free Schengen zone if it does not take action.
But despite the country's "uneven" progress in reforms, Barroso indicated that the commission's yearly report on Macedonia, due on November 9, would be "overall ... a positive one."