While visiting the Macedonian capital, Skopje, on September 8, 2018, German Chancellor Angela Merkel implored the Macedonian people to welcome a Greek-Macedonian deal regarding Macedonia’s name in an upcoming referendum vote. In June 2018, at the urging NATO and the EU, the Macedonian government under Prime Minister Zoran Zaev came to an agreement with Greece which includes changing the name of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia.
Before the June 2018 agreement between Greece and Macedonia, NATO commenced talks with Macedonia about joining the organization, but stated the country would have to first change its constitution and name before joining. Greece has membership status in both the EU and NATO, and has been adamant in its refusal to accept Macedonia’s current name, arguing that the name “Macedonia” suggests territorial claims on the Greek province of Macedonia as well as signals appropriation of Greece’s ancient history. Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, among other nationalists, opposes the agreement on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. In order for the agreement to become a part of the constitution, Prime Minister Zaev’s party must obtain a two-thirds majority in parliament.
Merkel Urges Macedonians to Embrace Name Deal with Greece
SKOPJE (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Macedonians to embrace a deal with Greece over the country’s name at a referendum later this month, in order to secure membership of NATO and European Union.
Macedonia has set Sept. 30 for the referendum on both the membership bids and its agreement with Greece to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.
After meeting with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in Skopje on Saturday, Merkel said the issues were “very closely linked”.
“Without a solution to this (name) question, the other two things can’t happen,” she told journalists.
In June, NATO invited Macedonia to begin accession talks with the alliance, but said it would have to change its constitution and adopt the new name first. The EU has also said it would set a date for Macedonian accession talks pending implementation of the name deal.
Greece, a member of both NATO and the EU, has refused to accept the Balkan country’s name, saying it implies territorial claims on the Greek province of Macedonia and amounts to an appropriation of its ancient civilization. It has blocked the country’s membership bids.
Zaev’s government, elected in 2017, pushed for an agreement with Greece and the two sides agreed on the new name in June. Macedonian nationalists, including President Gjorge Ivanov, oppose the deal however, saying it is against the constitution.
Zaev said Merkel’s visit sent “a strong message and encouragement” to citizens ahead of the referendum “to decide their future.”
“The future could be, with a successful outcome of the referendum, that you are both member of NATO as well as belonging to the family of EU states,” Merkel said.
Her visit comes 27 years to the day after Macedonia declared independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991. It was the only former Yugoslav republic to break away peacefully.
Zaev’s government needs a two-third majority in parliament to implement the constitutional changes. If the deal with Greece is rejected in the referendum, it would be more difficult for the government to win this majority.
According to recent opinion polls, more than 50 percent of people are likely to vote, with the majority supporting the membership bids and the name deal.
Source: Reuters, Kole Casule, Paul Carrel, Ivana Sekularac, Clelia Oziel, Sep. 8, 2018. Photo credit to Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters .