Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said on June 17 that he congratulated his counterparts from Athens and Skopje, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, on the day’s signing of the “Republic of North Macedonia” name agreement.
Borissov congratulated the prime ministers and their foreign ministers on “the very bold and important move they undertook today”.
“The agreement on the name dispute clears the way of Macedonia towards the European Union and Nato,” Borissov said in a Twitter message, inserting the flag of the former Yugoslav republic, rather than a name.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva congratulated her two counterparts “for the important step you made today”.
“Time will show that it was worth the effort. Today is a good day for #Bulgaria too – nobody is prosperous and happy, if their neighbours are not,” Zaharieva tweeted.
The signing, by Greece’s Nikos Kotzias and Macedonia’s Nikola Dimitrov, took place in the border region of Prespes.
The brief ceremony signalled, in the hopes of those who support the agreement, the end of a 27-year dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic.
The ceremony was attended by Matthew Nimetz, the UN Special Envoy on the name dispute, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn.
Zaev crossed the lake on a motor boat to arrive at the ceremony, where he was welcomed by Tsipras.
They said that the long dispute about the name was over and the doors for bilateral and economic co-operation were open.
UN envoy Nimetz has been involved in trying to resolve the name dispute for 24 years. He first was appointed in 1994 as US President Bill Clinton’s special envoy on the name dispute. Five years later, Nimetz was appointed to the UN role.
Nimetz, who turned 79 on the day of the signing on June 17, said that the signing of the agreement was the biggest gift he could get.
Tsipras said: “It is our duty to be sure that we take solid steps and I am an optimist. We have here a great musical Balkan tradition. Today we are writing a new song, a song of joy, of prosperity. We are celebrating together the birth of a new future”.
Zaev described the day as historic and quoted Aristotle, that without courage nothing could be achieved. He said that his country had learnt the important lesson that big decisions are made through decisive action and highly appreciated the help of the EU and the UN.
EU foreign policy chief Mogherini said: “Today is a very good day. First of all, it is a very good day for the two countries; but we are here, Commissioner Johannes Hahn and myself, to say it is also a very good day for the European Union, for Europe as such, for the Balkans”.
“I think that this agreement shows the way to Europe, to the rest of the world that any problem, any issue is solvable in a positive way through leadership, courage and dialogue. And indeed this is a very good day for all of us,” Mogherini said.
“Now the other work starts, we will be there as the European Union, every single step of implementation, to continue to accompany this process,” she said.
Mogherini, asked if the signing meant that Macedonia would be rewarded with the start of the EU membership negotiation process, said: “We already recommended as the European Commission to start the negotiations and personally I would expect and hope that the European Council in two weeks from now will take that decision.
“Based on merit; the merit was assessed already by the Commission a few months ago, and going in the right direction. Even more so today – I would expect this to send a positive signal and to strengthen the wave of change and peaceful, constructive regional relations beyond the two countries in the entire Balkan region.”
The signing of the agreement does not mean a definitive end to the dispute, as it is still subject to lengthy and complicated procedures in both countries.
In the Republic of Macedonia, Parliament should consider a bill of ratification within a week. A national referendum is expected in September 2018. Should the vote in the referendum be “yes”, then a change to the country’s constitution will be required, which would require a two-thirds majority in the legislature. Zaev’s government does not command such a majority.
Should ratification in Macedonia succeed, the document will be proposed for ratification in Greece.
(Photos: vlada.mk, and the Independent Balkan News Agency)