The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will take a big step to joining the European Union if the country supports a name change to "North Macedonia," the official in charge of the bloc's enlargement negotiations said Tuesday.
Following talks with FYROM'S Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in the capital Skopje, Johannes Hahn said the September 30 vote is a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity for FYROM citizens to improve their daily lives.
A vote to authorize the name change would be an important step towards resolving a long-standing dispute with neighbor Greece, which has blocked FYROM's EU accession as well as its membership to NATO. Greece has long sought the name change because it says the current one implies claims on its own northern province of Macedonia, and on its ancient heritage.
Dozens of western officials including German chancellor Angela Merkel, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, and US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have visited Skopje in recent weeks to encourage turnout in the vote — which will only be valid if just over fifty percent of registered voters participate.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass will also be visiting Tuesday.
Hahn said the deal is "appreciated" by the international community, because it would solve a long-running dispute.
"It is a proof for everybody that so-called frozen conflicts can be resolved if [leaders] have a determination to solve the issue," Hahn said.
"This agreement has an impact (that) goes far beyond the EU."
If FYROM citizens vote for the deal in the referendum, the country's parliament must then amend the constitution to adopt the new name.
For the deal to come into effect, Greece's parliament would then have to ratify it.