After the Handshakes, a Long Road Ahead Confronts the ‘North Macedonia’ Deal



Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev have to return to their offices and face angry political opponents and an unhappy public.

The agreement between the prime ministers of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) was celebrated by the two administrations on Sunday, but there is a long road ahead before it is fully implemented.

After Sunday’s wide grins, handshakes and celebratory dinners, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev have to return to their offices and face angry political opponents and – from what it looks like – an even angrier populace. The next few months will not be easy for ‘North Macedonia’ and Greece, as both leaders will have to convince opponents and skeptics that the deal will be to their benefit.

The majority of Greek people are against the word ‘Macedonia’ being in the name of their Balkan neighbors. In Skopje, the majority of citizens do not want the ‘North’ added to the country’s name because they became comfortable being called plain ‘Macedonia’ for more than a quarter of a century.

Zaev is the one who will feel the heat first. Sunday’s agreement will go to parliament first. This is likely to happen on Wednesday. Then the deal will be given to President Gjorge Ivanov to sign. Most likely the president will not sign the deal, as he has already stated. Then Zaev will have to take it to parliament again where he will simply need a majority vote, which he has secured.

The next crucial date is the EU Summit on June 28-29, where the agreement will be approved to open the way to pre-accession negotiations.

Greece, for its part, should send a letter to NATO stating that it is removing its objections to the accession of ‘North Macedonia’ to the Atlantic Alliance. On July 11, NATO will invite the country with its new name.

By the end of September, beginning of October, Zaev will hold a referendum and he has to win. If the people of ‘North Macedonia’ vote against the name, the deal will collapse and everything has to go back to square one.

Also, Zaev will have to proceed with required constitutional changes, the articles that contain what Athens say are irredentist claims. The process may take months, up to eight, analysts say. This means that the changes will be completed in early 2019. After the Greek government oversees the changes, the agreement will be brought to the parliament to ratify it.

As Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias told reporters on Sunday, he will visit Skopje soon in consultation with his counterpart, Nikola Dimitrov, to oversee progress.

There is also the issue of school text books in FYROM. Apart from the changes to the constitution which must be made without deviation, there must be changes in school books regarding the name of the country. The changing of public documents will also be a long process.

All these changes and bureaucratic procedures will take place in turbulent political climate in both countries. Nationalists on both sides have already declared war on Tsipras and Zaev.

It is questionable how many people in northern Greece will vote for Tsipras’ SYRIZA again. The ‘selling out’ of Macedonia is a strong political argument against the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition. At the same time, two lawmakers from Independent Greeks have already left the party, putting the government’s fragile majority at risk.