Greece and Macedonia have reached a historic accord to resolve a decades-old dispute over the name of the tiny Balkan nation, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said.
"The chance is here and it must be seized, bravely, as this is the only patriotic way", Macedonian Prime Minisrter Zoran Zaev told a press conference in Skopje. The name issue has been blocking Skopje's aspirations to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union for years. Greek opponents of the deal say modifying the name would not go far enough.
Athens, which like all members of both organisations has a veto over admissions, objected to its neighbour's use of the name Macedonia, arguing that it, along with articles in the constitution, could imply territorial claims over its own northern region of the same name.
They also urged the Council to endorse opening EU accession talks with Macedonia, which the European Commission recommended in April.
Due to the name dispute, Greece has vetoed all of attempts by Skopje to join both the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. However, Tsipras said, this will be contingent on Macedonia completing the constitutional changes.
The deal was welcomed by European Union officials. "I am keeping my fingers crossed".
The Greek prime minister will now inform the country's president and will later give a televised statement.
They said they looked forward to accession negotiations beginning with Skopje in June.
"The name change will be implemented not only the country's worldwide relations but also domestically", Tsipras said adding that Skopje would need to revise its constitution.
Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose right-wing Independent Greeks party is Tsipras' governing coalition partner, said he would oppose an agreement in a parliamentary vote, meaning the left-wing prime minister will need to seek support from political opponents. Nicholas Paphitis and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece contributed.