ATHENS, Greece >> Greece’s parliament today approved a measure for Macedonia to join NATO, ending a decades-old dispute watched closely by Western allies wary of Russian influence in the region.
Lawmakers voted 153-140 to back the NATO protocol that must now also be approved by all other alliance members.
The Greek vote means the former Yugoslav republic will now formally change its name to North Macedonia, settling the spat over the country’s name which Greece saw as a potential threat to its own northern region of Macedonia.
“I would like to again welcome North Macedonia, a country that is friendly toward Greece, a country that must be a supporter — and not an opponent — of our efforts to establish safety, stability, and cooperation in the wider region,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told parliament shortly before the vote.
Western countries strongly backed the deal between Greece and Macedonia, after the country’s bid to join NATO had been shelved for a decade and amid European concerns over Russia’s vocal opposition to the alliance’s expansion further into the Balkans.
“Clearly it is in Greece’s interest to promote a European course for all its neighbors, not just for North Macedonia — and not (back) the influence of third forces in the neighborhood, with different aspirations and pursuits,” Tsipras said.
Tsipras had faced large demonstrations against the deal, while opinion polls showed that more than two-thirds of Greeks oppose it.
The agreement also nearly toppled his government last month after triggering the breakup of his coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks party.
Greek opposition parties argued the agreement made too many concessions to Macedonia.
“(We) will vote against the accession protocol because it is, simply, the final act or the final act of a damaging agreement,” conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament to applause from members of his party before the vote.
Greek approval of Macedonia’s NATO accession bid is the final step in the deal. Provided lawmakers vote for the motion, Greece’s foreign ministry will promptly notify the Macedonian government of the result.
Macedonia will then write to the United Nations, its member states and international organizations, formally announcing the name change.
Government spokesman Mile Boshnjakovski told The Associated Press this would happen “in coming days.”