Now, all hope comes from Berlin

Aleksandra M. Mitevska

The visit of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and the big government delegation to Berlin justified the expectations that it was one of the most important official visits of the Macedonian Prime Minister after the change of power in the country. Not only because Germany is one of the most influential countries in NATO and the EU and one of Macedonia’s most important trade partners, but also because German Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of the most concerned supporters of the stabilization of Macedonia, who is always observing and intervening in processes in our country and in the countries of Southeast Europe, regardless of how her positions are currently shaken after the latest elections in the country.

After the two informal meetings of the Macedonian Prime Minister with the German Chancellor in the past months, on the sidelines of the international meetings in Trieste and Davos, the reception with high state honors of the Macedonian delegation was less important than how Berlin is ready to respond to our hopes for help to reach a more just decision on the name dispute with Greece. Much more important than the protocol passed by the Macedonian government in Germany is that this bilateral visit is a strong signal for the renewal of relations between the two countries. Merkel virtually turned her back on the previous Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski after the political crisis in the country gained dramatic proportions, after the discovery of the wiretapping scandal. That crisis and the role of Gruevski and his clique in its outburst, and then management, further complicates the integration processes of Macedonia, something Merkel has significantly assisted in the years after the Macedonian rightists came to power.

Now Merkel, as one of the key figures in the Berlin process and its initiation, in order to strengthen the contacts between the countries of the Western Balkans, again talks about the ambitions of Macedonia to join NATO and the EU. The German Chancellor is again optimistic that in the name dispute, which endangers most of our country’s Euro-Atlantic perspectives, a new move is coming.

Zaev’s visit to Berlin is, in fact, another sign that negotiations to overcome the long-standing dispute between Macedonia and Greece are entering a critical phase, which is what the telephone conversation between Merkel and Tsipras talks before Zaev to land on the Berlin runway. This is of particular importance in this period when the Macedonian diplomacy is in a position to decide or give up, pending the report of the European Commission and the Brussels NATO Summit in July, while the critical stage for the “defense” of the name is multiplied on the domestic scene. Her message was encouraging, but also suggestive that, in order for Macedonia and Greece to settle the dispute, they should make compromises, no matter how painful. She also sent a warning message that it is best for the negotiations to take place behind closed doors, that is, not to stir up nationalist passions.
That the messages from the meeting Merkel-Zaev were announced in “diplomatic gloves” and that was not openly promoted the role that German diplomacy could play in moving negotiations on the name dispute is quite expected, given also the expected Greece’s objections to the eventually more heated facilitating position that any European country would take in the process that is officially under the auspices of the UN. Therefore, it is understandable that the Macedonian government’s formal slogan “no” regarding the question of whether Germany is undertaking a mediation mission in the name dispute is understandable.

However, Zaev’s statement – that Macedonia had received strong support for its strategic commitments to join the EU and NATO, and that the government now remains to continue with reforms and resolving the dispute with Greece, in itself points to Merkel’s encouraging attitude to compromise, in the direction of skipping the biggest obstacle on our way to Brussels. And on that occasion, official Berlin certainly will not stand completely apart, but it will push us. That’s at least the first impression while waiting for Zaev to return home.