Greece Hands NATO and Europe a Win by Ending Balkan Name Dispute

(Bloomberg) -- Greece gave NATO and the European Union a boost in the volatile Balkans by ending an almost three-decade dispute over a word: Macedonia.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Greek lawmakers for backing a deal that clears the way for the newly-named Republic of North Macedonia to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the EU. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras proclaimed a “new chapter” for the region and EU officials lauded leaders on both sides for setting aside nationalist enmity.

Welcoming a new NATO member would reaffirm the alliance’s influence in a part of Europe where powers from China and Russia to the U.S. and Turkey are competing for allegiances. For the EU, the deal creates a diplomatic opening for talks with Greece’s neighbor on eventually joining the bloc.

“The leaders of Greece demonstrated vision, courage, and persistence in their pursuit of a solution to the name dispute, which will allow the future Republic of North Macedonia to take its rightful place in NATO and the EU,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Tsipras, 44, emerged victorious from a stormy week that included a confidence vote, violent protests, parliamentary shakeups and party breakups. All stemmed from opposition to the deal by Greeks who say the name Macedonia should be used exclusively for the country’s own northern province, the ancient stronghold of Alexander the Great.

Tsipras appears strengthened by the win in parliament, reaffirming his control after surviving a confidence vote without the support of his former coalition partner and securing 153 votes for the so-called Prespes agreement in Greece’s 300-seat chamber.

Greek Election

That should allow Tsipras to focus on a general election that polls suggest the opposition New Democracy party would win if it were held now. His agenda includes returning Greece to the bond market, reducing non-performing loans held by Greek banks and raising the minimum wage.

Ratifying the name agreement with Macedonia’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, may cost Tsipras votes at home while earning him points from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and European Council President Donald Tusk.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.