BFF-06,07 Macedonia lawmakers to vote on name change deal with Greece

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Macedonia lawmakers to vote on name change deal with Greece

SKOPJE, Oct 14, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Macedonia’s parliament will vote Monday on
whether to ratify a deal to change the country’s name, in a bid to finally
settle one of Europe’s longest running disputes.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev faces an uphill battle to get the necessary votes
to rename the Balkan state North Macedonia to end the row with Athens and
open a path to EU and NATO membership.

He needs two-thirds of parliament’s MPs to amend the constitution and seal
the deal.

But the Social Democrat premier’s coalition, backed by parties representing
ethnic Albanians — who make up around a quarter of the country’s 2.1 million
population — doesn’t have enough votes.

He will need to get the support of around a dozen deputies from the
rightwing opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, which has campaigned vehemently
against the change.

Ever since its small neighbour proclaimed independence in 1991, Greece has
maintained that the word Macedonia can only apply to its own northern
province.

Greece has long vetoed the Balkan country joining NATO and the European
Union over the bitter row.

But a breakthrough came in June when Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis
Tsipras agreed on the name North Macedonia.

Macedonia then held a referendum on September 30 in which more than 90
percent supported the name change — but only a third of the electorate
turned out, leading to opponents claiming the result was illegitimate.

The poor turnout has hurt Zaev’s campaign to attract opposition MPs to the
cause.

– ‘Very uncertain’ –

“There will be no two-thirds majority, do not hope for it,” VMRO-DPMNE MP
Trajko Veljanovski said last week.

Another of the party’s MPs, Ilija Dimovski, was more cautious.

“We will see what will happen, but VMRO-DPMNE MPs, or most of them, will
not support the deal.”

The government has planned talks with four or five VMRO-DPMNE lawmakers —
which would still not be enough to ratify the deal.

“All this is very uncertain,” a government official, who requested to
remain anonymous, told AFP.

Zaev has said that if parliament fails to pass the name he will immediately
call early elections.

MORE/MSY/0836 hrs

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According to Florian Bieber, a professor of southeast European studies at
the University of Graz in Austria, it is still “possible that pro-agreement
parties and candidates might win a two-thirds majority and ratify the
agreement.

“Only if this fails, will the agreement be dead or at least shelved,” he
told AFP.

But Boris Georgievski, expert in international relations and head of
Deutsche Welle’s Macedonian-language service, said that if Monday’s vote
falls short he does “not see how the agreement has a chance to survive”.

And time is running out, as the agreement stipulates that everything must
be completed by the end of the year — though Greece has already said it is
willing to be flexible over deadlines.

– ‘No plan B’ –

Failing to change its name could push Macedonia into isolation.

Tsipras said in July that if the deal is not ratified, Skopje will not be
invited to join NATO and EU talks will not move forward.

This “chance will not be repeated”, Zaev warned, and called on the
opposition to look to “its responsibilities”.

“There is no plan B to join NATO without a name agreement,” the military
alliance’s chief Jens Stoltenberg repeated earlier this month.

“The only way to become a member of NATO is for the country to agree on the
name issue with Greece.”

Bieber said that while Macedonia had historically seen Athens as the “main
stumbling block”, failing to pass this deal “would certainly put the country
and the government in a difficult position, as the responsibility would lie
with it, and not with Greece”.

The parliamentary session starts at 11:00 am (0900 GMT) on Monday. No
deadline has been set for when it will end.

BSS/AFP/MSY/0836 hrs