EU Urges Name Deal as Republic of Macedonia Is `Back on Path'

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union urged the Republic of Macedonia to strike a deal with neighboring Greece on a long standing name dispute after it recommended start of accession talks with the Balkan country.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s government came to power 11 months ago in the first leadership change in a decade with the promise to restore broken ties with the 28-nation bloc. Zaev is trying to resolve a row over the name “Macedonia,” which Greece believes to be a territorial claim on its northern province of the same name. Athens has blocked the former Yugoslav state from both EU talks and membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization over the dispute. Zaev wants to receive in June a starting date for EU entry talks.

“Despite difficult circumstances, the country has managed to overcome the deep political crisis and you are now firmly back on the EU path,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn told reporters in Skopje Wednesday. “My suggestion is to use this opportunity and in particular the momentum all of you have created to strike a deal” on the name issue as soon as possible.

Name talks are scheduled to continue in Thessaloniki in early May. Zaev has accused his predecessor, nationalist leader Nikola Gruevski, of deliberately fueling the dispute with Greece. The European Commission set reforms in judiciary and media in 2015 as a condition for Macedonia’s accession talks, criticizing Gruevski’s government for weak rule of law and state capture of regulatory bodies.

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