Sunday, 18 November 2018 | News today: 0

Macedonia’s Parliament approves name-change agreement with Greece

Macedonia’s parliament approved a constitutional revision bringing a decades-old dispute with neighboring Greece one step closer to a resolution that would unblock the country’s membership to the West’s most powerful clubs.

The vote took place late Friday behind closed doors after hours of delay amid high tensions. It came on the heels of accusations—leveled by the deal’s supporters and opponents—of threats, blackmail and bribery. In all, 80 members of parliament backed the deal, which changes the name of the nation to “North Macedonia,” securing the two-thirds majority required in the 120-seat parliament.

“This is a historic day for our country…We will access the two most powerful organizations of the world very soon,” Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said after the vote.

The process has been closely watched by the U.S. and the European Union, which pressed heavily the deal’s ratification.

Greek and Macedonian officials reached a tentative agreement to the decadeslong dispute in June under heavy diplomatic pressure.

But ratification in Macedonia seemed elusive after a referendum on the agreement failed to achieve the required 50% voter turnout, leaving the matter up to the country’s parliament.

A trans-Atlantic push became even stronger ahead of Friday’s vote.

The agreement still faces several hurdles in Macedonia before ratification is complete.

Friday’s vote was the first in a lengthy process that could last three months or more, during which time legislators will have two more opportunities to vote. The process is expected to be completed in January. Even though the first vote is considered the most crucial, there is no guarantee that the final vote would again muster the required two-thirds majority in parliament.

The Greek parliament would finally be called on to ratify the agreement as well. The nationalist junior-coalition partner in Greece’s leftist government opposes the deal, and its ratification could prompt political upheaval and possibly snap elections.