Macedonia's parliament yesterday adopted a declaration supporting the country's bid to join NATO, after the alliance formally invited it to join once it fully implements a deal recently signed with neighboring Greece changing its name to North Macedonia.
All 76 lawmakers present in the 120-member parliament voted in favor of the declaration, including the conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, which has strongly objected to the name deal.
Conservative lawmaker Dragan Danev said his party would make a "strong contribution" to the country's efforts to join NATO, while governing Social Democrats lawmaker Hari Lokvenec noted that NATO membership would strengthen Macedonia's security and stability.
NATO leaders formally invited Macedonia last week to start membership talks, on the condition that membership won't be completed until the name deal is fully implemented.
The deal with Macedonia's southern neighbor was crucial in lifting Greek objections to the country's being invited to join NATO and the EU. The dispute dates from after the country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece argued the term "Macedonia" implied territorial claims on its own northern province of the same name — birthplace of the ancient warrior king Alexander the Great — and usurped ancient Greek history.
The name deal has met with strong opposition in both Macedonia and Greece, with critics saying it concedes too much to the other side.
Macedonia still has several steps to take before the agreement is fully implemented, including changes to the country's constitution and a referendum later this year. Once that is complete, Greece's parliament will be called on to ratify the deal. The head of the Greek government's junior coalition partner, however, has said he will do all he can to block ratification.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said Wednesday night after a meeting with the main political parties that the referendum question would likely be: "Are you in favor of membership in the European Union and NATO by accepting the deal between the Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Greece?"
Zaev said the referendum will be "consultative," a possibility allowed for under the country's law, but added that "the people's say will be final for all political parties."
VMRO-DPMNE head Hristijan Mickoski walked out of the meeting, protesting a government proposal for a change in the election law that would allow the State Electoral Commission to be elected by simple majority in parliament instead of by two-thirds of lawmakers. The members of the previous commission resigned earlier this year over a corruption scandal, so a new one is needed to run the referendum.