Macedonia Parliament Agrees to Change Country's Name

Demonstrators wave flags in front of the parliament building in Skopje on 23 June 2018 during a protest against the new name of the country the Republic of North Macedonia

Demonstrators wave flags in front of the parliament building in Skopje on 23 June 2018 during a protest against the new name of the country the Republic of North Macedonia

The countries struck the deal in June, but Macedonia will start using the new name only after the parliament in Athens also ratifies the agreement.

"My sincerest congratulations to political actors and citizens of the hopefully soon to be North Macedonia on Parliament's vote on the constitutional changes", Hahn tweeted.

She said the European Union strongly supports the deal and will "fully support" Macedonia's goal of joining the EU.

In the Macedonian capital of Skopje, Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov told a press conference Sunday that he has been "assured" by a Greek government official that Athens remains "strongly committed" to completing its part of the name change deal.

The main opposition New Democracy party has said it will block the deal.

Greece rejects the name Macedonia, adopted by the country at its independence 27 years ago, as it is also that of a large Greek region that evokes national pride as the cradle of Alexander the Great's ancient empire.

The party says this will safeguard the identity of ethnic Albanians - about a quarter of Macedonia's 2.1-million population.

The Macedonian Prime Minister has called on Greece to follow suit after his parliament ratified a deal that would see the country renamed Republic of North Macedonia.

Both Albania and Macedonia expect Brussels to decide to launch formal European Union membership negotiations later this year.

Now the baton passes to Athens, where Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is facing resistance from nationalist opponents to his pledge to ratify the deal and sign off on Macedonia's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation accession.

Even if he loses the confidence vote, the timing of any new election is unclear given that Tsipras has pledged that Greece won't return to the polls until the government completes a series of measures to stabilize the economy, including constitutional reform, new legislation to protect homeowners and an increase in the minimum wage.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev encouraged Greek lawmakers to support the move. Representatives of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, who opposed the agreement with Greece, boycotted the vote.

But in Greece, the upcoming vote on the name-change deal has soured relations between the ruling coalition partners.

A government spokeswoman said that later in the week the timeline for ratification will be clearer, but the vote could possibly take place this month.

- This item corrects the number of opposition lawmakers staying away to 39. "But there are serious and responsible decisions that guarantee the future of Macedonia".

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