Macedonia lawmakers to debate name change

PM Zoran Zaev will need support of two-thirds of parliament to change the name to Republic of Northern Macedonia

Photo: EPA Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

The Macedonian parliament is poised to decide on Monday whether to accept changing the Balkan country's name in line with the Prespa agreement over two weeks after a referendum on the issue was marred by low turnout. The name change, which was pushed by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, is aimed at settling a decades-old dispute with neighboring Greece and potentially opening up the route to European Union and NATO membership for Macedonia. 

For the proposed constitutional amendments to be implemented however, Zaev faces an uphill battle as he needs to garner support from members of the right-wing opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, which is against the name change and boycotted the referendum.
"There will be no two-thirds majority, do not hope for it," VMRO-DPMNE MP Trajko Veljanovski said last week, although MPs from the party have sent mixed signals about their support on the issue, with some coming out strongly against it and others ambivalent.

In an interview with the Macedonian Information Agency news agency (MIA), EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini on October 14 reiterated support for the agreement between Athens and Skopje, saying it was a "unique opportunity for reconciliation in the Western Balkans, which may never happen again."

In June, the Macedonian and Greek governments hammered out a deal under which Athens agreed to lift its objections to the former Yugoslav republic joining both NATO and the EU in exchange for the country changing its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

As a result Macedonia held a referendum on the change, which has been a political issue ever since the country gained independence in 1991.In that referendum, 90 percent of voters approved changing the name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. Nevertheless, opponents have said the plebiscite was illegitimate since only a third of the electorate turned up - less than the required 50 percent turnout for the referendum to be declared valid.

Despite that, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev vowed to keep pushing for a change to the Balkan nation’s name and amend the constitution as required by the deal with Greece. He also promised that if the amendments fail to pass in parliament, he would call early elections.

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