Macedonian parliament ratifies name change deal for second time
The move comes after President Gjorge Ivanov refused to approve a deal to change the country’s name to North Macedonia.
Macedonia’s parliament has ratified a historic deal with neighbouring Greece for the second time in two weeks, after the Macedonian president temporarily blocked the agreement.
A total of 69 MPs in the 120-strong parliament approved the deal, under which the country would be renamed North Macedonia.
All MPs from the conservative main opposition party abstained from Thursday’s vote in protest at the agreement, which they say cedes too much to Greece.
President Gjorge Ivanov – who says the agreement is unconstitutional – refused to approve it. Under Macedonia’s constitution, Mr Ivanov can no longer block it after MPs ratify it for a second time.
The deal agreed earlier this month is meant to resolve a decades-old dispute dating back to shortly after Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
Greece argued the name “Macedonia” implied territorial aspirations on its own northern province of the same name, birthplace of the ancient warrior king Alexander the Great, and on ancient Greek heritage. Macedonia denied this.
Macedonia’s parliament initially ratified the deal on June 20. Mr Ivanov, a conservative, refused to sign it into law, saying the move was unconstitutional.
Under Macedonia’s constitution, Mr Ivanov can no longer block it after the second ratification vote. However, the president might delay signing the deal, triggering a constitutional crisis and a showdown with left-wing prime minister Zoran Zaev.
Foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov has strongly criticised Mr Ivanov’s stance during Thursday’s debate, accusing him of trying to terrorise the country’s population.
Mr Dimitrov said: “The most important thing is that the deal does not jeopardise our independence.
“On the contrary, (the deal) strengths our independence by opening the doors to Nato and the European Union.”
Full implementation of the agreement will take months, and is subject to a referendum in Macedonia and a parliamentary vote in Greece.
If everything goes as planned, the deal will clear the way for Macedonia to start accession talks with Nato and the EU, with Greece – a member of both organisations – lifting its long-standing objections to such a move.
Opponents of the agreement on both sides of the border have staged a series of protests.