15 June 2018
On the 12 June, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the deal reached between Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras (Greece) and Zoran Zaev (Republic of Macedonia) on a solution to the name dispute between Athens and Skopje, calling it “historic”. Greece has historically been opposed to the nation’s name, citing fears that it represents Macedonia’s intentions to seize land in northern Greece with the same name.
"This historic agreement is testament to many years of patient diplomacy, and to the willingness of these two leaders to solve a dispute which has affected the region for too long”, Stoltenberg said. “This will set Skopje on its path to NATO membership. And it will help to consolidate peace and stability across the wider Western Balkans,” he added.
Stoltenberg was responding to the announcement on 12 June that the former Yugoslav republic of 2.1 million people would be known as the ‘Republic of North Macedonia’. However, the agreement is still subject to a number of steps to allow it to take effect, including a national referendum in FYOM, probably in September, and approved by parliaments in both countries, where there is significant political opposition. Macedonia’s President Gjorge Ivanov and the main opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, are opposed to the agreement, while in Greece, Tsipras’ main coalition partner, the Independent Greeks, have stated that they are unwilling to back any agreement that includes the term ‘Macedonia’. Greek opposition parties have also expressed concerns about the deal.
The agreement was the culmination of many years of UN-mediated negotiations that had intensified in the past six months. Macedonia is hoping that the constitutional revision, if it takes place, will pave the way to EU accession talks at a summit later this month and an invitation to join NATO at the summit in July. Almost three fifths of Macedonians think that EU membership will be a good thing, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey from November 2017. A separate survey conducted in February 2018 showed 71 percent supported joining NATO.
Macedonia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace in 1995 and agreed a Membership Action Plan in 1999. During a visit to Macedonia in January 2018, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the country needed to resolve the decades-long dispute over its name, implement judicial reform and build good relations with neighbouring countries to join NATO.