New Name Deal With Greece Goes to FYROM's Parliament

Αssociated Press

FILE - Prime Minister Zoran Zeav speaks during a session for the ratification of the deal with Greece, in the parliament in Skopje, Wednesday, June 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

SKOPJE, FYROM — A new name deal on the verge of collapse will go before Parliament in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) where lawmakers will also be asked to approve changing the Constitution to remove claims on Greek lands as Premier Zoran Zaev doesn't have the votes to get it through so far.

Government spokesman Mile Boshnjakovski said the proposed changes include adding "North" to Macedonia's name and modifying the preamble and two articles of the constitution. That comes after 91.5 percent of voters in a Sept. 30 referendum approved the agreement but with the 36.9 percent turnout so low the country's election commission said it was invalid.

Opponents had urged a boycott and got overwhelming support from people who stayed away from the polls even though Zaev and western leaders who want to get FYROM into NATO under its new name and to open European Union accession talks said there was still a mandate.

Zaev lacks the two-thirds majority needed to have the proposed changes approved and said he would call an early election if lawmakers reject the amendments, which could spell the death knell of the agreement which aimed to end a 27-year-long name dispute.

Greek anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said the deal will be dead unless FYROM changes its Constitution to drop irredentist claims on Greek lands, including the real Macedonia, an ancient abutting Greek province, and on the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.

After successive FYROM governments kept claiming Greek lands, Greece used a veto to keep its neighbor out of NATO and starting EU talks but Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras lifted that, contingent on the deal being approved.

It would also need ratification from the Greek Parliament if it gets past the FYROM hurdle but Tsipras’ junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos are opposed.

Zaev told Euronews in an interview that he’s still hopeful. “There’s plenty of time, but we all agree that the sooner the deal is implemented, the better it will be for both countries, as the agreement offers many benefits,” he was quoted as saying.

“I am pleased with the success of this fully democratic process where all the determined voters cast their vote to say in what direction they want the country to go. Ninety-one percent sent a clea message to our politicians that deputies should go to Parliament and ratify it,” he added. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg repeated that without ratification, the Balkan nation will not be able to join the alliance.

“There is no plan B,” Stoltenberg said in Belgrade during a joint press conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, in response to a question about the political turmoil between the deal’s proponents and opponents in FYROM following last month’s referendum.