Greece’s ruling coalition survived a no-confidence motion on June 16, which was followed the next day with the signature of a bilateral agreement formally ending the Name Dispute between Greece and Macedonia/FYROM.
Entry-into-force is an open question with the majority of Greeks against the deal and a determined popular resistance to the compromise in Skopje as well. The battle for ratification will be long and controversial and we may not have seen the last chapter in this 27-year dispute.
No-confidence motion fails, causes a one-day delay for the Prespes signing
A no-confidence motion over the Greece-Macedonia/FYROM accord was tabled by the country’s main opposition party, New Democracy, on June 14, but this was rejected by a 153-127 margin in Greece’s 300-seat parliament on June 16 after two days of pitched debate. One MP from the government coalition partner, the Independent Greeks party (ANEL), broke ranks and was promptly ejected from the party, revealing a crack that was followed later by the resignation of several ANEL party functionaries in protest of the agreement’s signing.
The result paved the way the signing ceremony in the lakeside border town of Prespes on June 17. Accordingly, several high-level attendees who had been expected were unable to attend. UN Mediator Matthew Nimetz, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini were in attendance, however.
The official signing ceremony was held on the Greek side of the border with a celebratory lunch held on the northern side of the border and allowed Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to make his first visit to Greece’s northern neighbour under somewhat informal conditions.
The bilateral agreement was signed by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and his counterpart Nikola Dimitrov, as well as Nimetz for the UN, with Tsipras and Macedonia/FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev standing behind them.
Prior to the signing, Tsipras characterised the agreement as “patriotic and mutually beneficial.” Zaev hailed the deal, saying it eliminated a significant source of regional uncertainty and added that the agreement would inspire greater trust between the two countries. Nimetz, who coincidentally turned 79 on the day of the signing, called the deal “a fair, honourable, and functional agreement”.
International support has been significant, although clearly not as voluminous or top-level as the signatories would have liked.
Today’s agreement between 🇲🇰🇬🇷shows the transformative power of the #EU perspective and the great potential of cooperation and good neighbourly relations. For 🇲🇰 it marks the beginning of a journey, leading to #EUintegration. #EU and #WesternBalkans: stronger #together! pic.twitter.com/H43zSZM4Jk
— Johannes Hahn (@JHahnEU) June 17, 2018
Counter-protests highlight strong opposition
In Greece, where up to 70% of the population reject the compromise, New Democracy — who is favoured to win the next election — issued a sombre statement “Today is a sad day for Greece, but it is also a day of shame for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his coalition partner Panos Kammenos.”
New Democracy said the ruling coalition is “binding Greece into a deal which creates faits accomplis that will be extremely difficult to reverse in the future.” New Democracy also noted “The government… does not seem to realise that it (the agreement) is opposed by the vast majority of Greeks”
Protests in Greece organised in areas near Prespes on June 17 were met with tear gas, which resulted in 14 reported injuries.
In Skopje, police fired stun grenades and tear gas on the evening of June 17 to disperse a protest rally by several hundred nationalists. Reuters reported that the protesters attacked the police with stones, chanting “Macedonia, Macedonia we will give our lives for Macedonia.” Some demonstrators were arrested. Significant protests were also reported in Bitola at the time of the signing.
Congratulations to 🇬🇷& 🇲🇰 on signing the agreement today. Both leaders & govts showed vision, courage, & compromise, charting a brighter future for the region, including moving 🇲🇰 closer to NATO & EU. Deep gratitude to Matthew Nimetz for his efforts to bring this about.
— Ambassador Kate Byrnes (@USAmbNMacedonia) June 17, 2018
Watching developments closely
New Europe will continue to follow the fate of the deal resolving the Name Dispute as it winds through the political and ratification processes in both countries, as well as the invitations generally expected to be issued by the EU and NATO this summer that will launch those organisations’ extended accession discussions.
After ratification, a referendum should be held in Macedonia/FYROM in late September or October, which will constitute the next key decision point determining the deal’s fate. Ratification by the Greek side is programmed to occur only after essential steps are completed in Skopje, possibly taking the process into late 2018 or beyond.
As a result, New Europe will continue to use the term Macedonia/FYROM when referring to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in line with the clarification issued by the European Commission – Mogherini’s office – on June 18 which noted “pending full implementation of the agreement, the EU will use the name FYROM (spelled out in some cases), which is the name under which the country joined the UN.”