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Greece approves Macedonia NATO bid

February 8, 2019

Despite resistance from opposition lawmakers, Greece has voted to support its neighbor joining NATO. The move signals an end to long-simmering tensions between the two countries.

Macedonian soldiers
Image: Reuters/O. Teofilovski

Greece's parliament on Friday ended a decades-long dispute by approving a measure that would allow Macedonia, soon to be North Macedonia, to join NATO. In a 153-140 vote, Greek lawmakers backed the protocol that now must be approved by other members.

"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," said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras.

The former Yugoslav republic will now be able to formally change its name to North Macedonia, a longtime source of tension with Greece, which saw the name as a threat to its own region of Macedonia.

Greece ratifies North Macedonia's name change


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'Promote a European course'

Many in the West hope the change will also limit the influence of Russia, which has at times tried to exert influence on the soon to be North Macedonia.

"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,"

The move was unpopular throughout much of Greece, however, prompting large scale protests. A poll showed that two-thirds of the public opposed the move. It also nearly led to the end of Tsipras' government when the nationalist Independent Greeks party left the coalition.

Opposition parliamentarians argued that Greece had given too many concessions to soon-to-be North Macedonia, including a vow not to oppose its proposed NATO membership.

The next step is formally announcing the name change at the United Nations.

es/jm (AP, Reuters)

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