Referendum in FYROM: Steps ahead and positive momentum

A massive majority of those who voted in the referendum in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia backed the Prespa Agreement. This paves the way for the country to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia and for membership of NATO and, eventually, the EU.

The overwhelming majority of 91% voted in favour of the Prespa Agreement and this is a very important and positive development. Participation was low, but this is not something new in the electoral history of the county.

The referendum had a literally consultative character, and it was not included as binding prerequisite in the Prespa Agreement. PM Zoran Zaev still has the upper hand in decision-making, and he now need to move on with the ratification of the agreement in the national assembly and adopt the necessary constitutional changes.

I have repeatedly pointed out that the agreement between PMs Tsipras and Zaev bears an historical significance and can be considered as a huge step towards securing a better future for FYROM and the entire Balkan region, enhancing bilateral and multilateral cooperation and good neighbourly relations, creating the conditions for a better future for the next generations. The Prespa Agreement is built in a way that is mutually beneficially, it can survive in the long-run, and it is also a model to resolve other big international disputes.

We also need to emphasize on the fact that we have been waiting for a deal for almost three decades as nationalist frenzy, stereotypes, wrong decisions and mistakes of the past have blocked both sides to reach a positive agreement. In addition to that, despite the fact that VMRO has officially abstained from the referendum, its leadership did not call for elections after the low voter turnout nor criticize Zaev for the agreement. All political groups, including the European People’s Party, are in favour of the agreement, the EU institutions as well, and there is also a critical, positive momentum globally to make this deal happen.

In this context, the progressive forces in the European Parliament are supporting the agreement and will keep working in good spirit to assist both sides to ratify it. The Greek government has also shown strong commitment and leadership, it is in place to cooperate with all big powers regionally and globally and abide by its geopolitical interests while contributing actively in coping with regional crises.

To that end, PM Zaev has all the necessary endorsement to accelerate its steps and pass the agreement by the Parliament, either now or after snap elections. A failure to ratify the agreement would be a defeat of progressive, pro-European forces in FYROM, and a win for nationalist, far-right forces that want a dark future and continuous struggles for our region.

*Dimitris Papadimoulis is Vice-President of the European Parliament, head of SYRIZA party delegation. 

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