Greek MPs set for historic vote on Macedonia name change

On Thursday night, Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are due to put to rest a 27-year dispute over the latter country’s name. Following months of heated debate, the Greek parliament is scheduled to ratify the Prespes Agreement reached last June.

FYROM agrees to abandon the “Republic of Macedonia” – the name it chose for itself when it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 – and call itself North Macedonia. Greece agrees to lift its veto to North Macedonia’s membership in NATO and the European Union. A source of instability and ill feeling in southeast Europe is thus removed.

To the casual observer, an incomprehensible dispute has been resolved. Yet the compromise has brought political turmoil in both capitals.

In Skopje, social democrat Zoran Zaev was soundly beaten in a referendum on the deal; he ratified it in parliament by luring eight MPs from the nationalist VMRO-DPMNEparty across the aisle.

In Athens, the agreement has triggered two votes of confidence in the government over seven months and cost Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras his junior coalition partner, the Independent Greeks party.

His Syriza party is now a minority government, but the wily Tsipras is surviving by coaxing MPs out of small parties unlikely to return to the legislature should he fall and trigger a general election. He hopes for a larger majority on Thursday, but if necessary will use that precarious majority of 151 in the 300-seat chamber to ratify the deal.

So widespread is opprobrium over the Macedonia deal that few Greeks believe Tsipras will be able to rule until his term ends in October. Syriza is expected to receive a thrashing in European Parliament and local elections in May.