Macedonian lawmakers were in the final stretch Wednesday of renaming their country North Macedonia as part of a deal with neighboring Greece in return for membership of NATO and potentially the European Union.
The lawmakers were to debate essential constitutional amendments as part of the name change deal, which has met with vociferous opposition in both Macedonia and Greece. Opponents in both countries say the deal has made too many concessions to the other side.
In spite of the opposition in Macedonia, the constitutional changes were expected to be passed, with governing party officials indicating they had secured the required two-thirds majority in parliament.
The center-right VMRO-DPMNE opposition party was to boycott Wednesday’s debate, party leader Hristijan Mickoski said, adding the party would be joining several hundred demonstrators outside parliament who were protesting the name change and calling it “national treason.”
At least 80 lawmakers, or two-thirds majority of the 120-seat parliament, are needed for the constitutional changes to pass. Aleksandar Kiracovski, secretary general of the Social Democrats who heads the governing coalition, indicated the government has secured the required number of votes.
“I have information that over 80 lawmakers have assured that Macedonia’s future is in NATO and the European Union, and this is conditioned by the ‘Prespa’ agreement and the constitutional changes,” Kiracovski said.
The name deal with Greece was signed at Lake Prespa, which is on the border of Greece, Macedonia and Albania, in June as a means of ending a decades-long dispute and unblocking the country’s path towards NATO and the EU. Greece argues Macedonia’s name implies territorial claims on its own northern province of the same name, and on its ancient Greek heritage.
Opposition head Mickoski accused the Social Democrats of securing the majority through blackmail, although he did not elaborate on the claim.
“The lawmakers will vote because of blackmail, not by their free will. Are these European values?” Mickoski told reporters. “‘North Macedonia’ is perhaps (Prime Minister Zoran) Zaev’s homeland, but mine is the Republic of Macedonia.”
The amendments being debated envisage changing the preamble and four articles of the country’s constitution to rename it North Macedonia with guarantees it has no territorial aspirations towards its neighbors and is committed to good neighborly relations.
Parliament is also expected to add an amendment to the law that puts the new constitution in force, stating the changes to the constitution will not be valid until the Greek parliament ratifies its side of the name deal and signs the accession protocol making the country a NATO member.
Source: The Associated Press