Macedonia has agreed to change its name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia after reaching a historic deal with Greece.
The agreement signals an end to the 27-year dispute over the ex-Yugoslav republic's name, Macedonia prime minister Zoran Zaev said on Tuesday.
Mr Zaev said resolving the long-standing issue would open Macedonia's access to Nato and the European Union. "There is no way back," said Mr Zaev after a telephone conversation with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras who had earlier announced the breakthrough on the name.
The Greek prime minister said that Macedonia’s name change would be reflected domestically and abroad. Mr Tsipras added that the accord would allow a clear distinction between Greece’s Macedonia province and the country.
“The name change will be implemented in not only the country’s international relations but also domestically,” said Mr Tsipras. He added that Skopje would need to revise its constitution.
Since Macedonia’s independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece has argued that the young country’s name implied a claim to the territory and ancient heritage of Greece’s northern region of Macedonia, birthplace of ancient warrior king Alexander the Great.
Previous administrations in Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, resisted demands to change or modify the name.
The dispute poisoned relations between the two neighbours and the United Nations appointed a special envoy to mediate.
Resolving the dispute would mean Greece lifts its objections to Macedonia’s accession to Nato and the European Union.
In Skopje, the opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, said Mr Zaev had informed party leader Hristijan Mickoski that he had "achieved a solution with Greece".
Mr Tsipras’s comments came shortly after a much-anticipated phone call with Mr Zaev.
"A short while ago we reached an agreement with the prime minister of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia on the disagreement our two countries have," Mr Tsipras told President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.
“We have a good agreement that covers all the preconditions the Greek side had set,” he said. He also said that Macedonia would revise its constitution for the name change and that the deal “secures the historic heritage of ancient Greek Macedonia”.
Greece is to ratify the agreement in parliament after Macedonia has made the necessary changes to its constitution, said Mr Tsipras.
The compromises to resolve the name issue have faced dissent in both countries, threatening to split Greece’s governing coalition and provoke a rift between Macedonia’s prime minister and president.
Defence minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party is Mr Tsipras's governing coalition partner, said he would oppose an agreement in a parliamentary vote, meaning the left-wing prime minister will need to seek support from political opponents.
In Skopje, President Gjorge Ivanov said earlier in the day that he remained opposed to a constitutional change that would be likely to be included in the draft deal, to provide an assurance that the name change was permanent and binding for domestic and international use. – Reuters/PA