North Macedonia Name Deal Signed With Greece Amid Opposition

(Bloomberg) -- Greece and the Republic of Macedonia signed an historic agreement that may open the door for the former Yugoslav state to start accession talks with the European Union and NATO as both nations face strong opposition at home.

Foreign ministers Nikos Kotzias and Nikola Dimitrov sealed the deal to change the republic’s name to North Macedonia, its Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said Sunday in the Greek village of Psarades, at the border Lake of Prespa. The document, in which Greece agrees to drop its veto over Macedonia’s EU and NATO membership, and will be submitted to the parliament in Skopje Tuesday. It’ll be submitted to lawmakers in Athens after the Skopje government changes its constitution this year.

“This agreement is a step with which the two countries are curing from the past and are looking to the future,” Zaev said. “It is a deal that respects both country’s fundamental values,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said.

The agreement reached June 12 ends a dispute that dragged on for more than two decades. Talks with Greece resumed after Zaev took office in the Balkan state of 2 million last year and made solving the quarrel a priority. Previously, Athens blocked his country from taking steps to join both the 28-nation bloc and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, two groups he now hopes will offer invitations to start talks within weeks.

“I would expect and hope that the European Council two weeks from now will take that decision, which is based on merit,” European Commission Vice President Federica Mogherini said Sunday as she witnessed the event. “We already recommended as a commission to start negotiations” with Skopje.

Opposition parties in both countries have challenged the deal, saying it’s against national interests. In Athens, Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote over the agreement on Saturday. The deal also sparked confrontation between Tsipras and his main coalition partner, the Independent Greeks, who said they won’t support any name which includes ‘Macedonia.’

In Skopje, President Gjorge Ivanov, who has veto power over legislation, said he won’t sign off on it and the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party that backs him called protests against the deal for Sunday. Zaev has yet to muster a two-thirds majority in parliament to pass the constitutional change.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.