Analysis

As NATO marks its seventieth year, it is also looking forward to welcoming its thirtieth member: the Republic of North Macedonia.


The agreement between Greece and the newly-named Republic of North Macedonia, which ended a twenty-seven-year dispute between the two countries, “sends a clear message that we can resolve disputes through dialogue, by good faith… and using history not as a prison but as a school,” Greek Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos said on April 3. He said that the success of the two Western Balkans neighbors’ reconciliation can be a “blueprint for the Balkans — the powder keg of Europe in the past — to help resolve the other very difficult disputes that still exist” in the region and around the world.

Ahead of last year’s decisions on changing the name and disputed symbols in what was then commonly called Macedonia, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made clear the stakes. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Stoltenberg warned Skopje. “Either [Macedonians] support the agreement and they can join NATO, or they don’t support the agreement but then they won’t join it. They cannot get both.” Government representatives of North Macedonia working the issue confirmed they had been informed in no uncertain terms it was now or never.

Although turnout in the non-binding referendum was lower than hoped , the parliament of North Macedonia approved the landmark Prespa Agreement on January 11. From there, compared with the twenty-seven years of diplomatic wrangling  with Greece over these matters, it was a mere blink of the eye until the leaders of [soon-to-be-called] North Macedonia were getting a standing ovation at NATO headquarters as they and allies signed the formal accession agreement in February.

The signing by NATO’s twenty-nine members and Skopje of an accession protocol that would make the future Republic of North Macedonia the Alliance’s thirtieth member represents “a victory for stability, security, and reconciliation in the Western Balkans,” according to Michael Carpenter, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

“Today the Western Balkans have turned a page,” said Carpenter. “Common sense and regional reconciliation have prevailed over divisions and discord.”

Macedonia’s entry into NATO can help revitalize the Alliance, the country’s foreign minister, Nikola Dimitrov, said at the Atlantic Council in Washington on February 5.

“NATO is a family that is about security, stability, predictability, and a better and more peaceful world,” Dimitrov said, adding that “for you on the inside it is probably easy to forget how cold it is on the outside.”

On January 25, the Greek parliament approved a deal that will see its neighbor, Macedonia, renamed to the “Republic of North Macedonia”—a move that ends a twenty-seven-year dispute between the two Southeastern European countries.

The deal—known as the Prespa Agreement—was reached between Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in June 2018. The Macedonian parliament approved the deal on January 11. The agreement paves the way for the newly-minted North Macedonia to join NATO and potentially the European Union.

Greece’s parliament narrowly approved a deal on January 25 that would see its northern neighbor change its name to North Macedonia and Athens lift its opposition to Macedonian accession to NATO and the European Union. The deal passed in a 153-to-146 vote.

The deal—known as the Prespa Agreement—was reached between Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on June 17, 2018. The Macedonian parliament approved the necessary changes to the constitution on January 11.

Macedonian lawmakers on January 11 approved a set of constitutional amendments that will see the name of the country changed to the Republic of North Macedonia, potentially opening the way for the Balkan country to join NATO and the European Union.

“Today, the people of Macedonia secured their future and assured their place in the heart of Europe,” Atlantic Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson said. “No longer will their nation be on the transatlantic alliance’s periphery, stuck in a geopolitical limbo. With an historic parliamentary vote approving constitutional amendments to fulfill the obligations within the Prespa Agreement with Greece, Macedonians have determined their own destiny.”

Macedonia and Greece have reached “a generational point here [where a] decision can be taken,” George Robertson, who served as NATO’s secretary general from 1999 to 2004, said at an event at the Atlantic Council on October 22. Robertson, speaking on Macedonia’s potential succession to NATO, explained that the agreement between Macedonia and Greece to change Macedonia’s name is “an alignment of stars that is unlikely to happen for another thirty or forty years.”
The ambivalent results of the September 30 referendum in Macedonia – more than 90 percent voting yes, but below 40 percent turnout – understandably have caused many to doubt whether the small Balkan nation will remain on track to join NATO and the European Union (EU).

This analytical gloom ignores the fact that Macedonia has been on the brink of dramatic failure frequently during the past three years of its domestic political crisis and, yet, at each stage, its leaders manage to advance the country to a better position. This has not been a linear process. Nonetheless, over this period, Macedonia’s democracy and its European aspirations have decisively advanced.
Low turnout in a referendum on a name deal in Macedonia has complicated that country’s prospects for joining NATO and the European Union (EU).

Macedonians that did vote in the September 30 referendum overwhelmingly supported the name deal between their country and Greece. However, the referendum was consultative and non-binding, as the deal can only be ratified with a constitutional majority in the Macedonian parliament. The low turnout (around 37%) could embolden opponents of the deal to block passage once it comes for a vote in parliament. Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has said he will call an early election if he fails to gain the support for the deal that he needs in parliament. Even if the deal passes in the Macedonian parliament, it will need to be approved by the Greek parliament, where it faces stiff opposition.


    

RELATED CONTENT