Ambassador Matthew Nimetz, Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and FYROM.
Macedonia name issue very high on the agenda in both Athens and Skopje
United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz believes it is time to resolve the dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s name. In a wide-ranging discussion, Nimetz sets out his thoughts, hopes, but also his worries. He makes it clear that his choice is for there to be a composite name that would include a geographic qualifier. The envoy also talks about a “transitional period” and notes the need for a fast-track process for Skopje to join NATO and the European Union.
During his time in the role, Nimetz has met many leaders and foreign ministers from the two countries. He has listened at length to the positions and arguments of both sides, and has put forward a range of compromise solutions to the name dispute.
Over the last couple of decades, Nimetz has told me on many occasions about the times that he was close to a solution but was unable to clinch one. He has never hidden his disappointment about this. Now, due to the turmoil caused by the refugee crisis and the fears about terrorism spreading, he believes there are pressing reasons for a solution to be found as soon as possible.
Where are we on the name issue?
It is 20 years since the signing of the Interim Agreement and I think I am the only one who sat at the table when it was signed who is still working on the matter. Clearly it is time to resolve it. The migrant issue that so affects the two countries involved in the “name” dispute, the rise of terrorist threats in the region, and the troubling economic issues facing Southeast Europe today are new reasons why settling this issue is vitally important. A settlement would open the door to better cooperation and a stronger Euro-Atlantic approach to dealing with regional issues and would serve the interests of both countries.
Are you optimistic it will be solved soon?
During the past year or so the “name” issue has been lower on the priority list, as both nations involved have faced other important issues. I cannot fault them for this, but I believe it is time to focus with greater intensity on this issue with the goal of resolving it. Let me say I definitely believe it is resolvable, but more than that, it is resolvable in a way that will be positive for both countries. This is not a situation which is what we call a “zero-sum” situation: where one party “wins” and the other “loses.” There can be a resolution that is a “win” for both countries, meeting the national goals that each believes important. What is needed is to put this matter on a fast track and engage the leaders of both countries to solve it. The United Nations process, and the support of friendly parties, can be very important in this process.
Would you opt for the use of the term Macedonia but with a geographic qualifier?
The main building blocks of a solution are, to me, clear, because, after all, we have been talking about this for 20 years. The precise elements of an agreement have to be worked out by the parties, but I will tell you what I think they should consist of. First, there needs to be agreement on a name for the state that includes Macedonia but includes a suitable modifier, in my opinion a geographic modifier would be best, that preserves the dignity of the state but also differentiates it from the large part of Macedonia that is an integral part of Greece.
What about the use of the name and other important elements?
Well, this is the second element. There must be agreement on subsidiary aspects of the name, such as scope of usage and transition period, that I believe can be solved by serious discussions between the two sides with good will. Third, there must be assurances that the issue of any territorial aspirations are forever rejected and that a peaceful and cooperative relationship be the basis for the relationship. Fourth, the identity of the respective people must be respected by whatever agreement is reached. Fifth, the cultural heritage and patrimony of the respective people must also be respected. Sixth, a fast track for admittance to NATO is essential as well as support for setting firm dates for a start to the process of EU entry, which would of course be under the supervision of the European Commission.
What should be the next moves?
The most important thing in my opinion is to put solving this “name” issue very high on the agenda in both Athens and Skopje. The dialogue between the two foreign ministers has, from what I can tell, been a constructive one and my hope is that this will continue. The visit of Foreign Minister [Nikos] Kotzias to Skopje some months back was an important step in the process of building trust, as was the agreement on a series of confidence-building measures. These confidence-building measures, CBMs as they are called, were a good initiative from Athens and the positive way the concept was received in Skopje also reflects a positive atmosphere, but now we must build upon that important step forward in the relationship.
Would it help if the two prime ministers met bilaterally?
At some point, sooner rather than later, a meeting of the two prime ministers would be valuable. Having watched how they handle their roles as leaders and negotiators, and having now met them both at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), I believe they are two leaders who know this issue and who definitely know how to negotiate. I think they both have the trust of their country that they will protect the national interests of each, and that they have the strategic vision and political courage to work out a solution.
What is the United Nations’ role at this stage?