West hails Greek vote to end 28-year name row with Macedonia

‘North Macedonia’ to step up EU and Nato bids despite Russian anger

Greece’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras (right), accompanied by Greek alternate minister of foreign affairs George Katrougalos (left) and other members of his government applaud following a vote that ratified the Prespa Agreement at the parliament in Athens. Photograph: Michael Varaklas/AP

Greece’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras (right), accompanied by Greek alternate minister of foreign affairs George Katrougalos (left) and other members of his government applaud following a vote that ratified the Prespa Agreement at the parliament in Athens. Photograph: Michael Varaklas/AP

 

The European Union and Nato have hailed Greece’s approval of a historic deal to change the name of neighbouring Macedonia, despite widespread opposition and occasionally violent protests against the agreement in both countries.

Greek deputies voted 153-146 on Friday to back the so-called Prespa agreement, under which the ex-Yugoslav state will be renamed North Macedonia and Athens will lift a 28-year veto on its hopes of deeper integration with the West.

Macedonia narrowly approved the accord in a parliamentary vote two weeks ago and now aims to join Nato and launch EU accession talks later this year, as the alliances seek to cement their influence and frustrate Russian ambitions in the Balkans.

Since Macedonia gained independence in 1991, Athens has complained that its use of the same name as a region of northern Greece implied a territorial claim to the area and the legacy Alexander the Great, the storied ruler of ancient Macedon.

Nationalists in Greece and Macedonia fiercely oppose the deal, which was signed last June at Lake Prespa on the countries’ shared border, and more street protests were expected in response to the decisive vote in Athens.

“The North Macedonia that was born today will be a friendly country, an ally and supporter of Greece in its efforts for security, stability and joint development in the region,” Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras wrote on Twitter.

“Future generations in both countries will owe gratitude to the deputies who, with courage and bravery, set the foundations for a future of peace, solidarity and harmonious co-existence between the two nations.”

His Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, tweeted: “Congratulations my friend, Alexis Tsipras. Together with our peoples we reached a historical victory. Long live the Prespa agreement! For eternal peace and progress of the Balkans and in Europe! ”

‘New page’

In Brussels, meanwhile, top European Union officials praised both countries for “having written a new page of our common EU future”.

“It took political courage, leadership and responsibility on all sides to resolve one of the most entrenched disputes in the region,” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, EU foreign policy Federica Mogherini and enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn and said in a joint statement.

Macedonia hopes to become Nato’s 30th member in the coming months, and the alliance’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Greek approval for the Prespa agreement as an “an important contribution to the stability and prosperity of the whole region”.

“I look forward to the future Republic of North Macedonia joining Nato,” he added.

Moscow has denounced the deal as part of western efforts to “drag” Macedonia and the rest of the Balkans into Nato, and last year Greece expelled Russian diplomats for trying to stir up opposition to the UN-brokered agreement.

Thousands demonstrated against the accord around Greece on Thursday – when police used teargas and detained more than 140 people – and about 100,000 Greeks joined a protest rally in Athens last Sunday.

Polls suggest most Greeks oppose the deal, and turnout in Macedonia’s referendum on the pact last September was too low for it to be legally valid.