German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Athens serves as a reminder that Berlin, and western governments in general, are keen to see Greek Parliament ratify the name deal reached with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). It seems that FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev will manage to push the deal through the assembly of the Balkan country by that time, with sources indicating that he could even muster more than two thirds of votes.
The pressure on Athens from its western allies to avoid an upset in Parliament that would undo what has been built so far, will formally start with Merkel’s arrival and will most likely increase as Greece moves closer to the vote. The Europeans and Washington have stewarded the two Balkan neighbors up to this point – regardless if they (understandably) do not wish to admit their involvement – and they hope to see the deal through. They openly supported Zaev in the name deal referendum and the subsequent constitutional amendments. And they will not hesitate to do the same with Greece in order to bring this pointless (in the eyes of virtually all governments) dispute between Greece and FYROM to a close. A rejection of the deal by Greek Parliament would be seen as a defeat by the allies, while Athens would become the black sheep of the transatlantic alliance.
Is this something we can afford? Even our allies have been warning us since the talks in New York that there will be pain on both sides if the agreement is signed. We are seeing this now. The government should have no real problem ratifying the deal as it only needs the majority of present lawmakers. Greece’s allies are not really interested in whether Parliament’s decision may trigger political developments at home. Officials in Brussels appear certain that the news from Athens will be positive and they are ready to put a “North Macedonia” name tag on the NATO table.
For better or worse, the signals will intensify in the coming days. After both sides have ratified the deal, FYROM’s admission process will begin and around April the Balkan state will be granted observer status before becoming a full member in early 2020. Everything else only serves to get us squabbling among ourselves.