By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonia’s President Gjorge Ivanov said he will not sign the landmark ‘name’ deal with Greece, claiming it is not in the national interest – but as his powers are limited, he cannot delay its progress indefinitely.
Ivanov said on Tuesday that he has decided not to sign the deal reached between the governments in Skopje and Athens and ratified by the Macedonian parliament last week, which is expected to unlock the country’s stalled progress towards NATO and EU membership.
He insisted that the deal breaches the constitution and that it puts his country in a subordinate position to a foreign state.
“I do not accept the constitutional change aimed at changing the constitutional name [of the country]. I do not accept ideas or proposals which would endanger Macedonia’s national identity, the individuality of the Macedonian nation, the Macedonian language and the Macedonian model of coexistence,” Ivanov said in a press release, quoting parts of his electoral platform from 2014.
Macedonia’s president can delay but not stop the deal from moving forward, as his powers are limited.
Parliament is expected to vote on it again, after which the president has an obligation to sign it, although no exact deadline is legally specified. Even if he stalls on the signing, his term in office expires early next year.
Under the historic agreement signed by the two countries’ foreign ministers in June 17, Macedonia is to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia in exchange for swift accession to NATO and a start to EU accession talks.
Macedonia’s parliamentarians on Wednesday approved the long-negotiated agreement with 69 out of 120 deputies voting in favour.
In return, Greece on Monday informed the EU and NATO that it no longer objects to its neighbour’s accession under the new name, which will also be put to a referendum in Macedonia in the autumn.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev on Monday evening upped the stakes over the referendum, saying that he would resign if the vote in support of the agreement fails.
“Yes, I will step down if the referendum fails. But I am sure that it will succeed. I expect a serious percentage, 75-85 per cent [to support it], in line with the percentage of citizens’ support for EU and NATO [accession],” Zaev said in an interview with Macedonia’s 1TV.
The name agreement, which many have called a historic achievement, aims to close the 27-year-long dispute between the two neighbours over the use of the term Macedonia.
The agreement however has met with strong opposition from both Greek and Macedonian hardliners who see it as a national defeat.
Athens has been blocking Skopje’s Euro-Atlantic path, insisting that the name Macedonia implies territorial claims over its own northern province of the same name.