The Macedonian parliament has backed draft constitutional reforms, including a key amendment on the country's name change, clearing another hurdle towards settling a long-standing row with Greece and forging a path to join NATO.
The vote late Monday to change the name of the former Yugoslav republic to the Republic of Northern Macedonia went 67-23 in favor, with four abstentions. A simple majority was enough at this early stage, but a two-thirds majority among the 120 lawmakers is required to change the constitution. The decisive vote is expected in January.
Macedonia's Social Democratic Prime Minister Zoran Zaev appears to have subdued the nationalist opposition and pushed the name change onto the parliamentary agenda with a two-thirds majority in October. Renaming Macedonia is a key element of a deal with neighboring Greece to end a decades-old dispute.
However, Athens claims the name of Macedonia for its northern province, and has been accusing its neighbor of territorial aspirations towards the province and its legacy; for this reason, Greece has blocked Macedonia from joining NATO and promised to do the same in the European Union. Following the agreement in June, Greece lifted its NATO veto in July, but will ratify a membership treaty only if the name change is backed in the referendum and sealed with constitutional changes.