Parliament in Skopje voted on October 19 to initiate changing the constitution to rename the country “Republic of North Macedonia”, thus moving to implement the Prespa agreement with the Greek government resolving the decades-long dispute over the use of the name “Macedonia”.
Eighty members of Parliament voted in favour, the minimum required to approve the move.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s ruling coalition did not have, on its own, sufficient votes to approve opening the procedure to change the constitution. The October 19 vote was secured with the support of eight MPs from the opposition conservative VMRO-DPMNE.
The vote followed five days of heated debate in the legislature in Skopje. For the Friday night endgame, both Zaev and Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, who has underlined that proceeding with the name change is essential to the former Yugoslav republic’s aspirations to join the EU and Nato, were present.
The process of voting had its own drama, as the vote first was taken electronically, and then – at the insistence of the parliamentary group leader of VMRO-DPMNE – by roll call.
The vote in favour of the move to change the constitution also means that Zaev’s statement that his government would resign should the move be defeated now, or at least for the time being, falls away.
The Prespa agreement, and the consequent hope of EU and Nato membership, were put to a national referendum in Macedonia on September 30. In that referendum, the yes vote won a majority, but the turnout was below the threshold to make the outcome binding.
The Prespa agreement was signed on June 17 by Zaev and his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras. The legislature in Skopje voted on June 20, by 69 votes to zero, to ratify it.
The path ahead for the agreement is likely to continue not to be smooth, given not only internal opposition in Macedonia but also in Greece to the deal.
For Macedonia’s Parliament, the next steps in the process will be consideration of the texts to be tabled by the government on the specific changes to the constitution to implement the Prespa agreement. This in turn will require a succession of votes, a process that could take some months.