Greek lawmakers pass Prespes agreement

The parliament settled 27-year Macedonia row with 153 votes in favour in 300-seat House

Greek lawmakers ratified on Friday the controversial deal with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) settling a name dispute that has separated the two neighbors for nearly 30 years. The so-called Prespes agreement was passed with 153 votes in favour and 146 against, despite rancorous protests taking place in Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki.

After the debate parliament speaker Nikos Voutsis hailed the vote as “historic,” saying that the House session leading up the vote, which clocked more than 38 hours, was the longest held in recent history, beating even some of the thornier debates related to Greece's international bailouts.

Under the so-called Prespes deal Greece's northern neighbor will now rename itself North Macedonia, since the country has long argued that the use of the term Macedonia implied territorial claims on its own northern province of the same name, and usurped its culture and ancient Greek history. In exchange, Athens will drop its objections to the country joining NATO and the EU.

Many Greeks, however, are opposing the deal because they view it as an attempt by their neighbours to hijack ancient Greek civilization and culture. The agreement has even cost Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras his parliamentary majority after the right-wing Independent Greeks quit the governing coalition in protest. In the end, however, he managed to secure enough votes to scrape the vote through a deeply-divided parliament.

"This is a historic day for Greece, ending a pending issue which was a burden on our foreign policy," Tsipras told journalists after the three days of acrimonious parliamentary debate came to an end.

Shortly after the results were announced top European Union officials applauded the historic ratification of the Macedonia name agreement. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU's top diplomat and the senior official supervising the bloc's enlargement, announced jointly Friday that they "warmly welcome" the vote in Athens, which has "written a new page of our common EU future."

They say that "it took political courage, leadership and responsibility on all sides to resolve one of the most entrenched disputes in the region. Both countries have seized this unique opportunity, which sets an example of reconciliation for Europe as a whole and will give a further boost to the European perspective of the region."

Meanwhile, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that Greeks have accomplished "Mission impossible."

"They had imagination, they took the risk, they were ready to sacrifice their own interests for the greater good," he said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the Greek parliament's decision, writing in a tweet that the vote is "an important contribution to the stability and prosperity of the whole region" and that he "looks forward to the future Republic of North Macedonia joining NATO."

In the mean time, Matthew Nimetz, the man who spent 20 years as the UN's mediator in a name dispute between Greece and Macedonia said the ratification "ushers in a new era for the consolidation of peace and security in the Balkans " and "opens the door to a new relationship."

Despite his victory before Europe and the world, however, Tsipras is facing an uncertain future as a PM. Opinion polls show that most Greeks oppose the settlement, a fact which may not bode well for Tsipras in an election year. A general election is due by October, and his party is trailing the main opposition, the conservative New Democracy party, by up to 12 points.

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