The parliament of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on Friday approved a proposal to change the country’s name, bringing a decades-old dispute with Greece one step closer to being resolved.
A total of 80 deputies in the 120-seat parliament voted in favor of renaming the Balkan country Republic of North Macedonia – just reaching the two-thirds majority needed to enact constitutional changes.
The move could unblock its bids to join NATO and the European Union, long blocked by Greece, which argues that "Macedonia" implied territorial claims to a Greek province of the same name.
The two countries reached agreement on the name change in June. But hurdles remain before the change can be formalized.
A referendum on the agreement failed to pass the turnout threshold of 50 percent, leaving it up to the Skopje parliament to settle the issue.
The procedure to complete constitutional changes is lengthy and requires several rounds of voting, with Friday’s being just the first stage. The procedure should be completed by January the latest.
Once FYROM formally changes the constitution, the Greek parliament will also have to vote on the deal.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who heads a small right-wing party that props up the government in the legislature, has threatened to quit the coalition if the Greek vote goes ahead.
Greek premier Alexis Tsipras congratulated Zaev on the result of the vote. “Tonight’s vote is a big step towards our common success. A very important step to a peaceful and prosperous future for our people,” he tweeted from his official account.
Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos also welcomed the result.
“The first big step toward implementing the historic Prespes accord has been taken. We continue with pride for the Balkans of peace, friendship and cooperation,” he said in a message on Facebook.
In a separate tweet, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who is also the government's junior coalition partner, referred to claims that three lawmakers had been offered bribes of up to 2 million euros to vote in favor of the amendments.
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 said. [Reuters, Kathimerini]
Congratulations my friend @Zoran_Zaev ! Tonight’s vote is a big step towards our common success. A very important step to a peaceful and prosperous future for our people!— Prime Minister GR (@PrimeministerGR) October 19, 2018