Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, ANA-MPA)
French President Emmanuel Macron was the latest western leader to join many others during the past months, urging the citizens of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to support a name change deal with Greece in the September 30 referendum.
“I strongly support it and firmly believe this agreement is good for you, for the region and Europe,” Macron was quoted as saying in a recorded video message on Saturday.
The referendum is seen as pivotal for the country’s future and the involvement of NATO and the European Union in the western Balkans.
The high stakes have prompted a long list of western leaders to urge voters in the Balkan country to approve the deal, under which FYROM will be called “North Macedonia.”
The agreement signed in northern Greece’s Prespes lake district on June 17 stipulates that FYROM must also change its constitution, ridding it of anything deemed as expressing irredentist ambitions over Greece’s northern province of Macedonia.
“You must choose and decide whether you are in favor of changing the constitution or not,” Macron said.
French Ambassador to FYROM Christian Thimonier put it bluntly on Friday, saying that “the choice is between North Macedonia and North Korea.”
Moscow vehemently opposes the expansion of NATO’s influence in the Balkans and the US has accused Russia of interfering in FYROM to sway the vote against the deal.
The main fear of western leaders has been the dissemination in recent months of fake news and the influence Russia has in the Balkan nation.
FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev also has to contend with the opposition to the deal by the VMRO party which has, however, told its supporters to vote with their conscience rather than ordering them to oppose the agreement.
Another obstacle to the deal is FYROM’s Diaspora, which is almost unanimously against. However, only 3,500 have registered to vote and their influence in the referendum is expected to be minor.
COUNCIL OF EUROPE
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the parliamentary arm of the Council of Europe, has welcomed the FYROM name agreement, describing it as an invaluable contribution to the stability of the region.
The signing of the agreement to solve the name issue in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” has raised, in the country, “immense hopes” of achieving Euro-Atlantic integration, and boosted the authorities’ intention to pursue reform after a two-year political crisis, according to PACE’s co-rapporteurs for post-monitoring dialogue with the country.
In an information note declassified on Friday, following a four-day visit to the country in June, Lise Christoffersen (Norway, SOC) and Valeriu Ghiletchi (Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD) said that at this “historic moment” they expected all political parties and authorities involved in the process to “play and active and responsible role” to allow the referendum on the deal to take place in good conditions.
They hoped the FYROM President of the Republic would respect the will of the people expressed through the referendum, and urged that the President’s use of a “pocket veto” should be clarified in order to avoid similar situations in the future.
“During our visit, we commended the goodwill and courageous steps taken by two Council of Europe member States, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and Greece, whose deal is an invaluable contribution to the stability of the whole region,” the note said.
The agreement signed by Greece and FYROM in Prespes to resolve the name dispute is in Greece’s best interests, Alternate Defence Minister Panagiotis Rigas said on Friday, talking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency’s radio station ‘Praktorio 104.9 FM’.
Rigas comment on a statement by FYROM’s main opposition party leader, who said he would urge his MPs to vote in favour of the agreement if it was approved by voters in a referendum, saying it indicated “great willingness to resolve a problem that made growth in the region difficult …. while creating other conditions in security and peace issues for the region.”
Accusing main opposition New Democracy and its leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis of changing their position regarding the name dispute, he said the government was striving to convince both voters and MPs that supporting the agreement was in the country’s best interests and hence “deeply patriotic”.
He predicted that the required parliamentary majority to ratify the agreement will be found and that relations with the government’s junior coalition partner, the Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, would not be disrupted as a result.
“ANEL and Panos Kammenos have said that they will stay the course because the country’s growth course and the completion of the effort for its exit from the memorandums and surveillance, which has been implemented, is at stake…I think this [consideration] will prevail,” he said.