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Macedonia-Greece name deal: What next?

October 1, 2018

A strong majority in Macedonia has voted to change the country's name, but low turnout has undermined the result. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is resolved to go ahead with the change regardless. What are the next steps?

Zoran Zaev in front of EU, Macedonian and NATO flags
Image: Reuters/O. Teofilovski

What does Sunday's referendum result mean?

Sunday's non-binding referendum on whether to change Macedonia's name to Republic of North Macedonia under a deal reached with Greece failed to produce a conclusive result, with some 90 percent voting in favor — but well under 50 percent turning out to vote at all. However, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has said the result is enough indication of support from the electorate for him to continue to push for implementation of the deal.

At stake is Macedonia's membership in NATO and the European Union. Greece has opposed Macedonia joining under its present name, which many Greeks see as usurping their legacy dating back to Alexander the Great, the king of ancient Macedon.

What problems does Zaev face?

Renaming Macedonia first needs to be approved by the Macedonian parliament. As Zaev and his coalition partners from the ethnic Albanian minority lack the two-thirds majority necessary to ratify the name-change deal, they will look for support from the opposition nationalist VMRO party, which has so far rejected the agreement.

"MPs now have an obligation to make Macedonia a better place for all of us," Zaev told reporters late on Sunday.

But support from the VMRO seems unlikely. It has rejected the referendum result, saying the low turnout made the vote "deeply unsuccessful" and that the government had "lost its legitimacy."

Read more: Macedonia name change could be a game changer

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev
Zaev will have his work cut out for him pushing the deal throughImage: AFP/Getty Images/R. Atanasovski

What happens if parliament votes against the deal?

Zaev has said he will call an early election if he fails to gain the support he needs in parliament. They would come just two years after the last election.

It remains unclear whether a new government would support the deal.

Read more: The Balkans: From Yugoslav wars to an ever-tense peace

Infografik Karte Mazedonien EN
Many Greeks feel Macedonia's name is illegitimate in view of their own regions of that name

What happens if the Macedonian parliament approves the change?

If the deal passes in Macedonia, it would also need approval from the Greek parliament, where it faces some fierce opposition as well.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' coalition partner, Panos Kammenos, who heads the national Independent Greeks party, has threatened to leave the government over the agreement.

Many Greeks fear the name deal will lead to Skopje laying claim to their cultural heritage.

If the deal does not pass in the Greek parliament, it would represent the failure to overcome a 27-year-old stalemate and a grave blow to Tsipras, who signed the agreement with Zaev in June.

Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras
Zaev (left) and Tsipras signed the historic deal in JuneImage: DW/D. Tosidis

What happens if both parliaments ratify the deal?

EU accession talks with Macedonia are scheduled to begin next year if the deal passes. Observers say the move to join the EU could, among other things, allay ethnic tensions within Macedonia, with the Albanian minority in the country broadly favoring closer ties with the West.

The EU has called on all sides to respect the result of Sunday's referendum.

NATO has also already issued an invitation to Macedonia to join the military alliance pending approval of the deal. NATO head Jens Stoltenberg has said on Twitter that it was a historic opportunity," adding: "NATO's door is open."

tj/ng (AFP, dpa)

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