We are ready to welcome you, NATO chief tells Macedonia

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) accompanied by Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (R) attends the press conference in Skopje, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 6 September 2018. [Georgi Licovski/EPA/EFE]

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Macedonians on Thursday (6 September) to vote in a referendum to embrace a deal on its name with neighbouring Greece and join the defence alliance.

“We are ready to welcome your country as NATO’s 30th member,” he said after meeting Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

Macedonia has set 30 September for the referendum on NATO and European Union membership bids and on its agreement with Greece on the country’s name.

Macedonia to hold referendum on name change on 30 September

Macedonia’s parliament yesterday (30 July) set 30 September as the date for a referendum on changing the country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia, a high-stakes vote aimed at resolving a long-running row with Greece and clearing the path to join NATO and the EU.

In June, NATO invited Macedonia to begin accession talks with the alliance, but to finalise membership talks it will have to adopt constitutional changes.

“This is a historic opportunity,” Stoltenberg said. “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to join the international community, to become a member of NATO, to become a member of the EU, but for this you have to agree with the name agreement.”

For many years Greece refused to accept the Balkan country’s name, saying it implied territorial claims on the Greek province of Macedonia and amounted to an appropriation of its ancient civilisation. It had blocked the country’s EU and NATO membership bids.

Zaev’s government, elected in 2017, pushed for an agreement with Greece to solve the name dispute and the two sides have agreed on the name Republic of North Macedonia.

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

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 …

Nationalists, including President Gjorge Ivanov, oppose the deal saying it is against the constitution.

“I believe that the real place for Macedonia is in the European Union and NATO. I’ll continue to support our strategic goals. But, EU and NATO cannot be an alibi for a bad deal,” Ivanov said in a statement after meeting Stoltenberg.

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