Macedonian parliament approves country’s name change

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (R) addresses the media after parliament voted to start changing the country's constitution at a parliamentary session in Skopje on 19 October 2018. [EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKI]

The Macedonian parliament approved on Friday (19 October) a proposal to change the country’s name, bringing a decades-old dispute with Greece one step closer to being resolved.

After a week of debate, 80 deputies in the 120-seat parliament voted in favour 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 start European Union accession talks, both long blocked by Greece, which argues that “Macedonia” implied territorial claims to a province in northern Greece of the same name.

The two countries reached agreement on the name change in June. But hurdles remain before the change can be formalised.

A referendum on the agreement failed to pass the turnout threshold of 50%, 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 at the latest.

“Today is a historic day for the country,” Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said.

Macedonia PM Zaev: We want to finish with problems once and forever

EXCLUSIVE / Prime Minister of the Republic of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev recounts one of the most extraordinary political developments in recent times: the agreement with Greece on the long-standing name dispute that has blocked NATO membership and the start of EU accession talks.

“Macedonia will be part of the European family our dreams and visions for better life in a better country will be fulfilled.”

Once Macedonia formally changes the constitution, the Greek parliament will also have to vote on the deal but that is also unlikely to be smooth sailing.

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, who heads a small right-wing party that props up the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, has threatened to quit the coalition if the Greek vote goes ahead.

“A great day for democracy in Skopje,” Johannes Hahn, the EU’s commissioner in charge of enlargement, wrote on his Twitter account.

I congratulate all those who decided to walk on along the EU path.”

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