Macedonia’s Parliament Approves Name Change to ‘North Macedonia’ in Dramatic Vote
The vote, however, is just the first step in a lengthy process to amend Macedonia’s constitution, with the bilateral deal also having to be ratified by Greece.
Macedonia’s ruling coalition has mustered the two-thirds majority in Parliament needed to change the country’s name to “North Macedonia” to resolve the decades-long name dispute with Greece paving the way for NATO accession and EU membership talks.
The ruling coalition of the Social Democrats led by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and the ethnic Albanian parties, however, managed to get the constitutional changes through only with the help of eight MPs from the opposition nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, which expelled the defectors immediately after the vote.
Zaev took the name change decision to Parliament after last month’s failed referendum in which over 90% of those who voted supported changing Macedonia’s name to “North Macedonia” but the total number of votes was below the required 50% threshold as VMRO-DPMNE boycotted the vote.
Greece has been vetoing Macedonia’s bids to join the EU and NATO since it insists the name of the former Yugoslav republic threatens its national integrity as northern Greek administrative districts are also named “Macedonia”.
In June 2018, Macedonia’s Socialist Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras a breakthrough through compromise solution with the name “Republic of North Macedonia”, with Greece agreeing to lift its vetoes if its neighbor adopts the said name.
After the failure of the referendum, however, it was uncertain that Zaev would see the changes through as the ruling coalition had only 72 votes in the 120-seat parliament, with 80 needed to change the constitution.
The amendments also include guarantees that Macedonia will respect the territorial integrity of its neighbors.
A total of 39 MPs from VMRO-DPMNE voted against the constitutional changes last, while the 8 MPs from the nationalist opposition who agreed to back them were expelled after the vote, MINA reports.
Igor Janusev, Secretary-General of VMRO-DPMNE, claimed that the party’s deputies had been subjected to “political threats” before the vote, and that three of them had been offered bribes ranging from EUR 250,000 to EUR 2 million to support the name change.
Friday’s late-night vote, however, is only the first in the lengthy process to amend Macedonia’s constitution. Several more rounds of voting will have to approve the changes, which is expected to be achieved by January.
Once that is done, however, the Prespa Agreement resolving the Macedonian name dispute would also have to be ratified by the Parliament of Greece.
Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, a coalition partner of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, remains adamantly opposed to the deal with Macedonia promoted by Tsipras.
“Tonight’s vote is a big step towards our common success. A very important step to a peaceful and prosperous future for our people,” Tsipras tweeted after the vote in Skopje.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn called the result of a vote “a great day for democracy.”
“I congratulate all those who decided to walk on along the EU path. I expect that the free choice of all MPs is fully respected, especially of those who crossed the aisle tonight. We need statesmanship, not party-games,” he stated.
(Banner image: Macedonia’s Parliament)