Lawmakers in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on Oct. 15 will decide whether to ratify a deal with Greece to change their country’s name to North Macedonia and open the door to joining NATO and beginning European Union accession talks.
The deal made with Greece’s anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras would let citizens of what would be called North Macedonia if both countries ratify the agreement be called Macedonias, have a Macedonian language and identity and keep the name of an ancient abutting Greek province.
The agreement got the support of 91.5 percent of FYROM voters in a Sept. 30 referendum but the paltry turnout of 36.5 percent, which came after opponents called for a boycott, led the country’s election commission to say it was invalid.
Tsipras also agreed to lift a Greek veto on North Macedonia getting into NATO and opening European Union accession talks to end a 27-year dispute that began when a New Democracy government allowed the new country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia to use the name Macedonia before successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek territories.
The agreement also requires FYROM lawmakers to approve changes – by a two-thirds votes – to the country’s Constitution removing irredentist claims on Greek lands, including the real Macedonia, an abutting ancient Greek province, and the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.
A FYROM coalition headed by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s Social Democrat s, backed by parties representing ethnic Albanians who comprise nearly 25 percent of the country’s 2.1 million population, was reportedly seven votes short at last count.
Zaev needs the votes of deputies from the right-wing opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, which has campaigned vehemently against the change and said he will call snap elections if the Parliament doesn’t approve the deal to end a 27-year name feud.
“There will be no two-thirds majority, do not hope for it,” VMRO-DPMNE MP Trajko Veljanovski said, according to an Agence France Presse report on the deal’s prospects. Another of the party’s MPs, Ilija Dimovski, was more cautious. “We will see what will happen, but VMRO-DPMNE MPs, or most of them, will not support the deal.”
The government has planned talks with four or five VMRO-DPMNE lawmakers — which would still not be enough to ratify the deal.
“All this is very uncertain,” a government official, who requested to remain anonymous, told AFP.
Florian Bieber, a professor of southeast European studies at the University of Graz in Austria, it is still “possible that pro-agreement parties and candidates might win a two-thirds majority and ratify the agreement. “Only if this fails, will the agreement be dead or at least shelved,” he told AFP.
Boris Georgievski, expert in international relations and head of Deutsche Welle’s Macedonian-language service, said that if the vote falls short he does “not see how the agreement has a chance to survive”.
Tsipras said in July that if the deal is not ratified, Skopje will not be invited to join NATO and EU talks will not move forward. This “chance will not be repeated”, Zaev warned, and called on the opposition to look to “its responsibilities”.
“There is no plan B to join NATO without a name agreement,” the military alliance’s chief Jens Stoltenberg repeated earlier this month.
“The only way to become a member of NATO is for the country to agree on the name issue with Greece.”