Greece has ratified a NATO accord with Macedonia for the admission of the former Yugoslav Republic into the US-led military alliance after a deal over the name ended a 27-year-old dispute between them.
The Greek parliament on Friday ratified the NATO accession protocol for neighbouring Macedonia – renamed North Macedonia – with 153 votes in favour, 140 against and one abstention.
The ratification ended a process to normalise relations between the two neighbours and anchor Macedonia firmly within the western sphere of influence.
“Today’s vote closes the most important round of obligations involving Greece,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told parliament ahead of the vote.
“I’d like to welcome North Macedonia, a country friendly to Greece, a country that must be an ally in efforts to establish security, stability and peace in the region,” he said.
“History will judge us. I feel we have carried out our patriotic duty.”
Final step in the deal
NATO members signed the accession protocol with Macedonia on Wednesday, days after the Greek parliament endorsed an agreement between Athens and Skopje that changed the Balkan state’s name.
Greece and Macedonia – independent since 1991 – struck the landmark agreement to change the name last year, despite protests from opposition parties, and ratified it in parliament.
The Greek approval of Macedonia’s NATO accession bid is the final step in the deal.
The two countries remained deadlocked over Macedonia’s name for the duration of the younger country’s existence. But the election of left-led governments in both countries made them less vulnerable to nationalist pressures.
The main catalyst for the name change was Macedonia’s wish to join NATO, and, eventually, the European Union, and the western countries’ desire to diminish Russian influence in the region.
Greece is a member of both the blocs and has veto power over other countries joining.
Tsipras had faced large demonstrations against the deal, while opinion polls showing more than two-thirds of Greeks opposed to it.
The agreement also nearly toppled his government last month after triggering the breakup of his coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks party.
The dispute over the name had also exposed old rivalries with Russia in a region where Moscow jostles for influence with NATO and the EU.
Moscow had taken a dim view of the name accord, and of Macedonia joining NATO, accusing the alliance of undermining security in the region by taking in Balkan members.