Greek parliament ratifies Nato accession protocol with Macedonia

Greek parliament ratifies Nato accession protocol with Macedonia
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje February 10, 2019

The Greek parliament ratified the Nato accession protocol with Macedonia late on February 8 following a heated debate between backers and opponents of the name deal with the country's northern neighbour.

Greece was the first country to ratify the protocol, after the signing by Nato member states’ ambassadors and Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov at a solemn ceremony in Brussels on February 6. The protocol was endorsed as a result of the ratified Prespa name deal between the two countries, under which Macedonia will change its name to North Macedonia on Greece's insistence, which in turn will unlock the Nato and EU integration processes for Skopje.

The protocol was approved by Greek MPs with a slim majority of 153 votes in favour and 140 against in the 300-seat parliament.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras from Syriza party said during the debate, which started a day earlier, “I feel we did our patriotic duty... We did what is right."

Following the Greek ratification it remains for the protocol to be endorsed by the other 28 Nato member states and for the country to officially become the 30th member of the Alliance, potentially during the Nato summit to be held in London in December.

During the debate, leader of the now opposition ANEL party, Panos Kammenos, accused Tsipras of bribing former ANEL MPs to change sides and back the government over the Macedonia deal, Kathimerini reported.

ANEL was a junior coalition partner in the government until recently, but Kammenos decided to resign as defence minister and to exit the coalition due to disagreements over the Prespa name deal, leaving it without the required majority of 150 MPs.

However, several ANEL MPs sided with Tsipras to vote in the agreement and to back the accession protocol with the tiny neighbour.

What is more disturbing is a statement from conservative opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who said that once his party comes to power it will veto Macedonia's accession to the EU when Skopje starts membership talks with the block.

Greece is to hold a general election in autumn this year.

Future North Macedonia is expecting to be invited to launch EU accession talks later this year, conditioned on tough reforms in all segments.

Mitsotakis added that New Democracy does not object in principle to FYROM’s entry into Nato, but it is against granting “Macedonian” ethnicity and language to its neighbour.

FYROM is an acronym of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a name used so far by international organisations due to the Greek objection to using the country’s constitutional name as Greece has a province in the north with the same name.

Under the name deal, the country’s language will remain Macedonian, with a reference that it belongs to a group of Slavic languages, and the citizenship will be Macedonian/citizens of North Macedonia.

Despite the painful changes and concessions, the Macedonian government agreed on constitutional changes in order for the country not to stay isolated.

Following the ratification in the Greek parliament, the Macedonian authorities will launch a complex procedure to change its name starting with new signs on border crossings, state institutions and embassies.

The process should start within seven days of the ratification.