Lawmakers OK switch to name North Macedonia
Macedonia late Friday fulfilled its part of a historic deal that will pave its way to NATO membership and normalize relations with neighboring Greece, after lawmakers approved constitutional changes to rename the country North Macedonia.
The move was hailed by NATO and the European Union, which had lobbied heavily for Macedonia to back the agreement despite strong criticism from the country’s main opposition party, and by Greece’s prime minister who has invested heavily in the deal.
All 81 Macedonian lawmakers present for the parliamentary vote backed the constitutional amendments. The remaining 39 opposition lawmakers in the 120-seat house stayed away in protest.
For the agreement to come into effect, Greece’s parliament must now convene in coming weeks to ratify it – a tricky task for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who faces strong opposition to the agreement from his junior coalition partner.
Tsipras spoke with Zaev on Friday to congratulate him after the vote, the Greek prime minister’s office said.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told lawmakers the deal was a “tough” but necessary decision for his country.
The vote followed intense negotiations between Zaev’s center-left coalition and some opposition lawmakers, who had initially agreed to back the agreement but raised last-minute objections.
The agreement on changing the name comes after a 27-year dispute with Greece, which complained that this small, landlocked country calling itself Macedonia implied claims on Greece’s own territory and cultural heritage. Macedonian leaders denied that.