SKOPJE, FYROM — It hinges on both countries finally ratifying the deal, but the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Parliament adopted a declaration supporting the country’s bid to join NATO if it finally becomes North Macedonia.
All 76 lawmakers present in the 120-member parliament voted in favor, including the conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, which has strongly objected to the name deal.
Conservative lawmaker Dragan Danev said his party would make a “strong contribution” to the country’s efforts to join NATO, while governing Social Democrats lawmaker Hari Lokvenec noted that NATO membership would strengthen FYROM’s security and stability.
NATO leaders formally invited FYROM to start membership talks, on the condition that membership won’t be completed until the name deal is fully implemented.
Greek anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras agreed to give away the name of the ancient abutting Greek province of Macedonia to let FYROM be called North Macedonia and as Greece removed vetoes on its neighbor getting into NATO and the EU.
FYROM’s Parliament has twice approved the deal, the second after the country’s President Gjorge Ivanov refused to sign it. He is now obliged to do so but hasn’t yet complied and the referendum will follow.
Greek lawmakers – with Tsipras’ junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos opposed – won’t take up a ratification vote until likely early in 2019.
The deal was brokered with the help of United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who had failed for nearly two decades to find an answer before resuming negotiations this year after a three-year break.
That was done amid speculation the United States wanted FYROM in NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans and has seen the previously anti-American Tsipras, who said he would take Greece out of NATO and not let the US keep a Naval base on Crete, now working to hep the alliance.
The deal with Greece was crucial to the lifting of objections to FYROM getting into NATO and starting European Union accession talks.
The dispute dates from after the country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece – which then allowed the use of the term Macedonia – put up the vetoes when FYROM governments made territorial claims on the real Macedonia in Greece — birthplace of the ancient warrior king Alexander the Great — and usurped ancient Greek history.
The name deal has met with strong opposition in both FYROM and Greece, with critics saying it concedes too much to the other side.
FYROM still has several steps to take before the agreement is fully implemented, including changes to the country’s constitution and a referendum later this year before it goes to Greek lawmakers although Tsipras has barred a referendum, with surveys showing 62 percent of Greeks opposed.
FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said after a meeting with the main political parties that the referendum question would likely be: “Are you in favor of membership in the European Union and NATO by accepting the deal between the Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Greece?”
Zaev said the referendum will be “consultative,” a possibility allowed for under the country’s law, but added that “the people’s say will be final for all political parties.”
VMRO-DPMNE head Hristijan Mickoski walked out of the meeting, protesting a government proposal for a change in the election law that would allow the State Electoral Commission to be elected by simple majority in parliament instead of by two-thirds of lawmakers.
The members of the previous commission resigned earlier this year over a corruption scandal, so a new one is needed to run the referendum.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)