With the crucial referendum in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the name deal with Greece just over two weeks away, FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Thursday that the agreement is a “dignified compromise” which allows his country to leave the “problematic status quo” behind it.
Addressing the European Parliament, Zaev described FYROM’s possible accession to the European Union as part of the European integration of the Western Balkans.
“A successful Balkans is one integrated in the EU. This vision has motivated us to make the historic step and stimulate processes of reconciliation, building unity and alliances in the region,” he told MEPs, speaking in his native language.
He added that this “is an opportunity that we have waited for for a long time.”
The referendum to ratify the deal on September 30, he said, is our “second independence.” He also said that the majority of his country’s citizens want to join NATO and the EU.
According to the deal signed in June, FYROM must ratify it by way of its approval in the referendum and the revision of its constitution before it can hope to join the EU and NATO.
The Balkan nation’s accession to NATO, which is vehemently opposed by Moscow, has been backed by Western governments as a way of mitigating Russian influence in the region.
The US has supported the process and has expressed concern over Russian interference.
An indication of this concern was the visit to Skopje on Thursday by the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell – the latest in a series by Western officials to FYROM’s capital.
“America also has a stake in the Western Balkans, of seeing stability and prosperity in a very import region,” Mitchell said.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis is also expected in Skopje in coming days. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who was in Skopje late on Thursday, urged FYROM’s citizens to participate in the referendum.
The deal has drawn strong opposition in both Greece and FYROM, with junior coalition partner Panos Kammenos, leader of the Independent Greeks (ANEL), vowing that his party will not back the deal in Parliament. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the deal will be approved in Parliament with an “absolute majority.”
Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis said on Thursday that, depending on developments in FYROM, the deal will be brought to Parliament in either February or March.