Macedonian parliament agrees to change country's name, paving way to European Union membership

Elias Hubbard
January 12, 2019

If approved, the name change would help resolve a decades-long dispute with neighboring Greece - opening the way for Skopje to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union.

Macedonia's parliament passed an amendment to the constitution on Friday to rename the country Republic of North Macedonia in line with an agreement with Greece to put an end to a 27-year-old dispute.

He secured the required two-thirds parliamentary majority to push the constitutional change through.

"A new historical chapter in our statehood has been written this evening", the Macedonian government said in a statement.

The debate on January 11 followed a postponement a day earlier, with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his allies negotiating with lawmakers opposed to the change.

The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, and the European Union commissioner in charge of enlargement, Johannes Hahn, hailed the vote. "(I) hope that this historic decision creates a positive dynamic for reconciliation in the whole western Balkan region".

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who congratulated Zaev in a phone call following Friday's successful vote, has previously said once Greece is formally notified by Macedonia of the constitutional changes, he will swiftly launch the process of ratifying the agreement in Greece's parliament.

A referendum was held last September - and while 94% backed the deal with Greece - it was ruled invalid because not enough of the electorate turned out.

Macedonian approval of the name change does not end the issue though.

Greece's objections forced the United Nations to refer to the new country as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".

Greece has blocked that path since Macedonia broke away from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 because, it says, the name Macedonia should apply exclusively to its own northern province.

Since 1991, many suggestions have been proposed, then rejected.

But a change of government in Macedonia in 2017 finally brought the start of serious negotiations, which led to the deal reached previous year.

Under the agreement, the country's language will be called Macedonian and its people known as Macedonians (citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia).

The countries struck the deal on the new name in June, but Macedonia will start using it only after the parliament in Athens also ratifies the agreement. In Macedonian, the name is Severna Makedonija.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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