The Macedonian parliamentarians have agreed on Friday to rename their "Republic of North Macedonia", a historic vote that paves the way for a resolution of the dispute with Greece.
The ball is now in Athens as the name change will only come into force when the Greek MEPs have ratified the agreement reached last summer by Prime Ministers Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras.
Greece in exchange promised to veto Macedonia's accession to NATO, as well as the accession negotiations of the small Balkan country of 2.1 million inhabitants.
"Within ten days, (…) as soon as the results (…) will be notified and if we discover that everything is in order, we will vote" to approve the agreement, Alexis Tsipras replied.
"Without an agreement with Greece, there is no NATO or EU", he said before the vote to the Social Democrat Zoran Zaev to speak on Saturday.
– A voice close –
With a vote (81 out of 80 necessary), Macedonian parliamentarians followed the example by adopting the four constitutional amendments necessary to ratify the change of name of their country, which had separated from Yugoslavia in 1991.
The head of European diplomacy Federica Mogherini and NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg congratulated Zoran Zaev.
The United States and Germany have gone further. The US ambassador to Skopje, Jess Bailey, hastily declared that his country "will welcome the Republic of Northern Macedonia as the 30th member of NATO". Optimistic about the ratification of Greece, the head of German diplomacy, Heiko Maas predicted that "the Republic of North Macedonia will soon be able to join NATO and start discussions for entry into the European Union".
The Greeks believe that the name of "Macedonia" can only be that of their northern province.
They accused their neighbors of usurping their historical heritage, especially that of the ancient king Alexander the Great, and they suspected them of irredentist ambitions.
This positive vote seems destined to end months of fierce political struggle in Macedonia, with a controversial referendum on September 30 and a long parliamentary battle.
Right-wing opposition leaders (VMRO-DPMNE), who did not take part in the parliamentary debate on Wednesday, are asking for betrayal.
But they were defeated by several parliamentarians who voted with the Social Democrats and their allies from the Albanian minority parties (20 to 25% of the population).
These votes allowed us to reach a two-thirds majority, which the coalition did not have at the beginning.
In particular, four right-wing MPs were granted amnesty for their alleged participation in the serious violence committed by nationalist activists in parliament in April 2017.
This led the VMRO-DPMNE officials to report "blackmail and threats" that Zoran Zaev would use to win.
– Zaev's triumph –
This vote is, however, a political triumph for the Social Democrats, who have been weakened by his adversaries after the consultative referendum he held on 30 September.
The validity of the "Yes" victory (over 90%) had been challenged by the opposition due to a massive abstention: over two thirds of the voters.
The battle is not over yet, but it does not depend on him anymore. If he only needs a simple majority, Alexis Tsipras has a small margin of maneuver (153 deputies out of 300). His ally Panos Kammenos, defense minister and leader of a small sovereign party, threatened to resign.
The right-wing president of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, whose role is honorary, is a determined opponent of the change of name. In the past, he refused to sign the promulgation, but the Macedonian constitution provides that it is "obligated" to do so if "the law is passed by a two-thirds majority".