Name Dispute: Rough sailing for ratification procedures despite quick work in Skopje

EPA-EFE/NAKE BATEV

Protestors wave flags and shout slogans during an anti-government protest in front of the Parliament building in Skopje, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), June 13, 2018. Demonstrators protested the government's politics as well as against a compromise solution in Macedonia's dispute with Greece over the country's name.

Focus moving to EU Summit over the next week


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The Parliament in Skopje quickly ratified the historic June 17 Prespes Agreement resolving the Name Dispute with Greece, but the required steps to get the deal to come into force in both countries resembles a complicated ballet that will not end until, at the earliest, late this year.

Though the governments of both countries strongly support the agreement, resistance on both sides of the border is enormous and opponents are determined to block ultimate ratification of what each side sees as a surrender of key national values. On top of that, there is uncertainty in the EU regarding the speed at which enlargement should be implemented. Although most observers expect heavy political skirmishing to continue in both countries and possibly some new political alliances, key actions will move to Brussels for the next week or so.

Fast track ratification in Macedonia/FYROM increases tension

The government of FYROM/Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, keenly aware that its political survival depends on the country’s rapid movement towards full Euro-Atlantic integration, moved with blinding speed over this past week to ratify the June 17 Prespes agreement. Zaev was able to get the agreement fast-tracked in the Macedonian/FYROM Parliament, with a positive vote (69 of 120) on June 20. The main opposition party VMRO-DPKME boycotted.

Leading the charge for ratification, Zaev said “We have not made a gift to anyone”, adding “Our language and identity is Macedonian”.

President Gjorge Ivanov, who has opposed the deal essentially from the start, has said he will not sign off on the parliamentary ratification. After a week’s possible delay by Ivanov, such an action can trigger a repeat vote, after which Ivanov would no longer be constitutionally able to block the process, yet he has indicated repeatedly he will not sign the document when presented.

Zaev indicated this week that he could go one step further and attempt to utilize parliament’s power to impeach Ivanov, which would force presidential elections within months. Macedonia’s constitution requires a two-thirds majority of 81 parliamentary votes for this, which will be problematic for Zaev.

On June 20, Ivanov raised the ante. “I call on Zaev … to immediately initiate (the) procedure,” he told the media. Demonstrations in Skopje and key cities in Macedonia/FYROM continued throughout the week.

Greek domestic resistance to the Prespes Deal increasing as are political fractures

Pressure increased dramatically on the Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, which supported its coalition ally SYRIZA in the June 16 no-confidence vote but has said it cannot support the Prespes deal when it comes for ratification. One senior ANEL MP, Dimitrios Kammenos, has been expelled from the party but for the time being, is holding onto his position as a parliamentary Vice President.

Kammenos also revealed that certain internal party discussions focused on various theories some MP’s had, positing that Germany would soften its tough stance on Greek debt issues once the Prespes deal was signed, a report the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition government spokesperson quickly denied. ANEL offices across the country and the offices of their MPs have been the target of spontaneous demonstrations. There are also multiple reports of ANEL MP’s claiming to have received death threats against themselves and their families.

ANEL leader and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, said mid-week that he plans to ask Greek PM Alexis Tsipras that the ratification requires an enhanced majority of 180 of parliament’s 300 MP’s, something that would essentially make ratification close to impossible. Knowing this, SYRIZA is resisting, but if this fault line erupts it could well become the factor that stalls the Greek ratification process. SYRIZA, with only 145 deputies, has also been making noises about turning the ratification vote into another no-confidence motion; much of this depends on whether the timing of the Greek elections is seen as close to the ratification vote as well as the stance of the currently-fractured Greek centre-left party alignment.

These emerging pressures also explain why so many of the specifics of the ratification process were spelt out directly in the Prespes Agreement, in a direct attempt to neutralize the strong domestic resistance that was anticipated in Greece, and some would say, to undercut democratic processes.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis took the anti-ratification battle to northern Greece June 20-21, where he attended events commemorating key battles fought against Balkan powers in several wars. He was challenged by media reports originating from Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) stating, without directly naming sources, that Mitsotakis had told the German leadership that he would not take steps to pull out of the Prespes Agreement if his party assumed power, which of course New Democracy denied.

It’s not North Macedonia yet

New Europe will continue to follow the fate of the deal resolving the Name Dispute as it winds through the political and ratification processes in both countries, as well as the invitations expected to be issued by the EU and NATO shortly that will launch those organizations’ extended accession discussions, along with the ongoing debate over the timing of EU expansion. A referendum is expected to be held in Macedonia/FYROM in October, which will constitute the next key decision point determining the deal’s fate.

Ratification by the Greek side is programmed to occur only after essential steps are completed in Skopje, possibly taking the process into late 2018 or beyond and conflating with elections in Greece. New Europe will continue to use the term Macedonia/FYROM when referring to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in line with the clarification issued by the European Commission – High Representative Federica Mogherini’s office – on June 18 which noted “pending full implementation of the agreement, the EU will use the name FYROM (spelled out in some cases), which is the name under which the country joined the UN”.

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