The name-change deal reached between Athens and Skopje does not turn against any other country, including Russia, and its only objective is to establish peace and stability, the prime minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Zoran Zaev, said on Friday (4 January).
In an interview with Greek newspaper Efimerida ton Sintakton (Efsyn), Zaev warned that his country would face “serious existential dangers” outside of the Euro-Atlantic institutions.
Last June, Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras reached a breakthrough deal on a 25-year long name dispute and agreed on the name ‘North Macedonia’. The new deal will also open the door for FYROM’s NATO membership, currently blocked by Athens due to the name dispute.
The EU and United States have expressed their clear support for the name-change deal. On the other hand, Russia opposes the deal. Behind the name agreement, Moscow suspects that Washington is pushing to expand NATO’s influence in the region.
In December, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the constitutional changes in Skopje were passed with “briberies” and the “blackmailing” of lawmakers.
According to the deal, FYROM should make the necessary constitutional changes and remove provisions related to territorial claims. The constitutional reform has already started and is due to be finalised by 15 January.
Then, the deal will pass through the Greek parliament, most probably in February or in March at the latest.
In an effort to assure Greek politicians that there will be no future surprises on the name deal after the Balkan country joins NATO, Zaev said that “it is a deal that cannot change in the future.”
According to Greek government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, the name-change deal will be approved with a simple majority in the parliament, with more than 151 votes out of 300.
The main opposition New Democracy party (affiliated to the centre-right European People’s Party-EPP) as well as the Greek socialist party, have said they will reject the deal.
The conservative junior coalition partner Independent Greeks have also vowed to leave the government if the deal comes for approval in the Greek parliament. However, the party will not vote for a motion of no confidence, which will be put forward by New Democracy. Leftist Syriza, therefore, does not see any risk of being overthrown.
“There is no way to lose the confidence of the House,” Tzanakopoulos said, adding that the country could be governed in a model similar to those of Portugal and Spain.
Merkel goes to Athens
In the meantime, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to visit Athens on 10-11 January.
Although Berlin has not officially confirmed yet, Greek media report that the name-change deal will also be part of her discussions with Greek politicians.
“I cannot prejudice that the Chancellor will discuss this issue in Athens, but I can say in principle that the German government emphatically welcomes the agreement to resolve the name dispute and continues to hope that this conflict of decades can finally be resolved,” a German government spokesperson said today.
“We now have to wait for constitutional change in Skopje and ratification in Athens,” the spokesperson added.
The leftist government in Athens expects that Merkel’s visit will put the main opposition New Democracy party in a difficult position, considering that they both belong in the same European political family (EPP).
Efsyn reported that for New Democracy it would be politically easy to reject the first vote on the name-change deal. But the second vote, which will be about FYROM’s NATO membership, due some days later, will be a headache for the party, which will have to face the pressure of NATO partners.