SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev urged opposition deputies on Monday to “look into the future” and ratify the country’s name change as agreed by Greece following an abortive referendum on the matter.
Greece had long blocked neighbor Macedonia’s aspirations to EU and NATO membership over its name, which Athens said implied territorial claims to a Greek province of the same name. But the two countries struck a deal in June under which the ex-Yugoslav republic would become North Macedonia to end a 27-year dispute.
However, a Macedonian referendum on the agreement failed to pass the turnout threshold of 50 percent, leaving it up to the Skopje parliament to settle the issue.
The ruling center-left coalition, which has 72 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament, needs to secure a two-third majority to pass laws on constitutional changes. The remaining deputies are members of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE, which also supports EU and NATO membership but opposes changing the country name.
Debate can proceed for a maximum of 10 days, after which the vote will take place.
“Let’s show the world that above all of our domestic political misunderstandings and conflicts, we have a joint interest - the future of our country,” Zaev told parliament.
“I call on deputies to think and look into the future, (and consider) whether they want a European Macedonia or isolation, poverty and uncertainty,” Zaev said.
He has said that if his government failed to secure majority to change name of the country, he would call new elections.
Ilija Dimovski of the VMRO-DPMNE said the current parliament lacked the legitimacy to decide on constitutional changes.
“None of the parties discussed the name change in their election campaigns (in 2016),” he said.
The procedure to pass constitutional changes is lengthy and requires several rounds of voting, with the Monday’s debate being the first stage. If Zaev’s coalition secures a two-thirds majority for the changes, the procedure could be completed in mid-January.
Under the deal, Skopje would formally adopt the name of Republic of North Macedonia, replacing Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to join NATO and start the EU accession process.
Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Mark Heinrich