End of Macedonia’s name dispute opens road to EU talks and NATO membership

Prime minister of Republic of Macedonia Zoran Zaev addresses the media about the agreement with Greece on the name issue in Skopje, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 12 June 2018. PM Zaev said the agreement will be 'Republic of North Macedonia' . [Nake Batev/EPA/EFE]

Macedonia and Greece yesterday (12 June) resolved a nearly three-decade row by agreeing to the name Republic of North Macedonia, opening the road for the landlocked country to start EU accession talks and to join NATO.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said the two sides agreed to the rename the former Yugoslav republic after months of intensive diplomacy.

“There is an agreement. We have a historic solution after two and a half decades. Our agreement includes Republic of North Macedonia for overall use,” Zaev told reporters in the capital Skopje.

Greece has long objected to its northern neighbour being called Macedonia because it has its own northern province of the same name.

The solution to the dispute opens the door for the EU summit on 28-29 June to decide to greenlight the start of accession talks with the Republic of North Macedonia, and for the NATO summit on 11-12 July to extend a membership invitation.

The agreement is expected to be signed by the end of this week at Lake Prespa on Greek territory. Lake Prespa is split in three between Greece, the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania.

What was agreed

Apart from the name, it was agreed that the language of the Republic of North Macedonia would be called Macedonian, with a footer indicating that it is part of the Slavic family of languages.

The Republic of North Macedonia will remove from its constitution the text which mentions “protection of Macedonian minorities” outside the territory of the country.

A special commission will agree on the use of trade marks with geographic denominator by both sides.

The parliament of the Republic of North Macedonia will ratify first the agreement. If the President Gjorge Ivanov, who is from the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, refuses to sign, the parliament will vote a second time for the agreement to be in force.

The Greek government will inform the EU and NATO by letter that it supports the beginning of EU accession talks and NATO accession for the Republic of North Macedonia, despite the reluctance by France and the Netherlands. (NATO’s previous invitation to Macedonia was blocked by Greece at the 2008 Bucharest summit of the Alliance. In December 2009 Greece vetoed the start of EU accession negotiations.)

The Republic of North Macedonia will inform the 193 UN members that it will use the name of Republic of North Macedonia in bilateral relations and in international forums.

By October the country will call a referendum and if the result is positive, it will proceed with the changes in the constitution. If the result is negative, early parliamentary elections will be called.

After Skopje completes this process, the agreement will be ratified by the Greek parliament, and the ratification of the Republic of North Macedonia’s NATO membership will take place.

‘Great victory’

In televised comments, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared the deal “a great diplomatic victory and a great historic opportunity” for the region to have “friendship, cooperation and co-development”.

Tsipras insisted the Macedonian government needed to get parliamentary approval otherwise “NATO’s invitation is canceled and negotiations with the EU will not move”.

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted his support for the agreement: “Thanks to you the impossible is becoming possible.”

“I am keeping my fingers crossed,” he said.

Hardliners critical

Greek officials earlier said the list of potential names included “New Macedonia” and “Upper Macedonia”, but after months of discussions “North Macedonia” was chosen.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias had prepared a 20-page draft agreement after repeated talks with his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Dimitrov.

Tsipras said that the agreement would specify that Macedonia’s language is of Slavic origin.

Both governments have faced criticism ahead of the compromise and on Tuesday Macedonia’s President Gjorge Ivanov signalled his concern.

“There is a need for a wider national consensus to find a solution that won’t hurt the dignity of the Macedonian people and citizens,” said Ivanov.

He is close to the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party which was defeated by Zaev in elections last year.

Russia says it supports the solution of the name dispute, but is against Macedonia’s NATO membership.

Macedonia expects more resistance as name solution nears – minister

Macedonia’s deputy prime minister expects growing “external resistance” as negotiations on the name dispute with Greece get closer to a final deal which would unblock the country’s NATO and EU membership bid.

VMRO-DPMNE’s leader Hristijan Mickoski said he would not support changes to the “constitutional name” of Macedonia.

“The government signed a capitulation because of his (the prime minister’s) incompetence to lead the negotiations and he accepted every request made by Greece,” said Mickoski.

This year there have been several protests against an agreement in Skopje, as well as in Athens and Greece’s second city of Thessaloniki in the north.

Tens of thousands join Greek protest over Macedonia name row

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of northern Greece’s biggest city Thessaloniki on Sunday (21 January), police said, in a long-running row between Athens and Skopje over the use of the name Macedonia.

In Greece, Tsipras’ conservative rival Kyriakos Mitsotakis also denounced the deal as a “bad agreement”.

“The acceptance of the Macedonian language and nationality is an unacceptable national retreat,” he said.

‘No chance’

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, a hardline junior coalition partner in Tsipras’s government, earlier dismissed talk of a deal, saying there was “no chance” Zaev could get it approved.

“This historic agreement is testament to many years of patient diplomacy, and to the willingness of these two leaders to solve a dispute which has affected the region for too long,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

“This will set Skopje on its path to NATO membership. And it will help to consolidate peace and stability across the wider Western Balkans,” he added.

The EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the deal “contributes to the transformation of the entire region of southeast Europe”.

The US State Department also issued congratulations, also commending UN mediator Mathhew Nimetz, who is a US diplomat, for his work.

Athens has long objected to its neighbour’s constitutional name — the Republic of Macedonia — because it fears it could imply territorial ambitions.

Ancient Macedonia was the cradle of Alexander the Great’s empire, a point of pride to Greeks today.

But under the Romans, the province of Macedonia was expanded to include territory in modern-day Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Albania.

Macedonia was a republic under the former Yugoslavia and initially lacked state identity. The Bulgarian dialect spoken there was gradually filled with Serbian words. In terms of history, the republic cherry-picked ancestry from Greek and Bulgarian history. Under VMRO-DPMNE, the capital Skopje became a Disneyland of fake ancient monuments.

Changes in Skopje became possible only after Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of EPP-supported VMRO-DPMNE was replaced by the social-democrat Zoran Zaev.

Bulgaria solved its problems with Skopje last August with the prime ministers Boyko Borissov and Zoran Zaev signing a bilateral treaty in which both countries renounced territorial claims and pledged to improve ties. Since, the Bulgarian EU Presidency has been a strong advocate for Skopje’s EU and NATO bids.

Bulgaria pledges to champion Macedonia's EU and NATO dreams

The European Union has welcomed the signing of a bilateral treaty between Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in which the EU member has promised to support the latter’s EU integration.

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