Skopje and Athens have resolved a dispute that arose shortly after the collapse of Yugoslavia. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (this was its provisional name) agreed to change its name to North Macedonia. The agreement arrived after six months of negotiations, meetings and telephone exchanges between the two prime ministers, Alexis Tsipras of Greece and Zoran Zaev of North Macedonia.
The main points of the agreement establish that the new name must be used both internally and in international affairs. Moreover, North Macedonia must remove from its constitution any historical or territorial claim toward the Greek region of Macedonia with Thessaloniki as its capital. Finally, the Macedonian language is officially recognized, but as a Slavic language.
Zaev will need to seek the approval of the parliament, and then a referendum will be held to support or reject the change of name and the constitutional changes. The referendum’s outcome is not so obvious. President Gjorge Ivanov and the leader of the opposition VMRO party are opposed to the compromise.
Tsipras and Zaev highlighted the historical character of the agreement, “which puts an end to a long dispute and allows us to hope for a future of solidarity, friendship and prosperity,” Tsipras said. For its part, North Macedonia, with its new name, could apply to the European Union and NATO membership. On Friday, Tsipras will inform his parliament of the details of the agreement. A nervous climate is expected, while the center-right New Democracy party probably will try to challenge the government.
To approve the agreement, the Greek prime minister will not have the support of the right wing Independent Greeks party, but it seems almost certain that the missing votes could come from members of the center-left. In any case, the final vote of Athens will arrive only after the green light in Skopje.
Meanwhile, the focus in Athens is on the immediate deadlines. The Eurogroup will discuss debt relief on June 21. Greece wants to send a clear message to facilitate the country’s full return to the markets after the end of the support program in August.
“It’s like when you’re pregnant. You cannot be a little bit pregnant. Either we manage to reach a level where debt becomes sustainable or we don’t,” said Finance Minister Efklìdis Tsakalòtos to the German newspaper Zeit. The president of the Euro Working Group, Hans Vijlbrief of the Netherlands, has also stated that on June 21 he expects an overall agreement that will be positive for the future of Greece.
It remains to be seen whether it will just be a question of postponing the deadlines for debt payments or whether it is something more structural. One of the main problems seems to be the attitude of Germany, which is not prepared to be too generous. Chancellor Angela Merkel fears she will not be able to get the content of the lightning measures approved by the Bundestag. Athens does not appear available to accept any additional “preventive funding” regarding the country’s exit from the economic support program. Greece wants to move on under its own weight. Although creditors have indicated that the “surveillance” of the country’s economy will certainly be more urgent than for Ireland and Portugal.
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