North Macedonia moves another step closer to NATO membership

North Macedonia’s MPs have unanimously ratified an agreement to make country the 30th member of the NATO military alliance.

The vote took place several weeks ahead of schedule because the current parliament is set to dissolve at the end of this week, ahead of a snap election planned for April 12.

“By joining this alliance, we are not simply joining an international organization,” North Macedonia’s president, Stevo Pendarovski, told parliament before the vote. “Membership of the world’s most powerful military-political alliance is a privilege, but also a huge responsibility.”

Joining NATO and the European Union has been a priority for the country for some time, but a dispute with neighboring Greece over the country’s name deterred progress for more than two decades.

While France last year vetoed the commencement of accession talks on EU membership for the country (as well as Albania), NATO membership has never been in serious doubt.

Although the economic benefits of joining NATO are not as immediately apparent as EU membership, economists at the Vienna Institute of International Economic Studies (wiiw) claimed in a report late last year that NATO accession can bring its own benefits in terms of FDI inflows.

“When committing long-term capital to the region, foreign firms appear to highly value the US security guarantee that NATO membership brings,” wrote Mario Holzner, the executive director of wiiw.

“In economic terms, we find that NATO accession is even more important for the country than entry into the EU, at least in the sense that it provides the most serious security guarantee available to foreign investors (for example, US military support). This then helps countries to attract much needed foreign direct investment. Given that the economic model of Central, East and Southeast Europe (CESEE) has been based, from the very beginning of transition, on capital and technology transfers from Western Europe via FDI, this is of utmost economic importance.”

The vote will come as a boost to the former prime minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, who called for the snap parliamentary election in October following the decision by EU leaders to delay opening membership talks with the country.

Mr Zaev spent a great deal of political capital pushing through the Prespa Agreement that saw the official name of the country changed to North Macedonia, and ended an almost 30 year-long dispute with Greece over the use of the term Macedonia.

Last week, the country’s labour minister, Rashela Mizrahi, a member of the main right-wing opposition VMRO DPMNE party which is hoping form the next government after April’s election, caused controversy when she stood in front of a plaque bearing the country’s old name.

Mizrahi – one of a number of VMRO DPMNE ministers drafted into the caretaker government that runs the country in the 100 days prior to a legislative election – said that she was merely correcting an “injustice” by standing in front of the plaque. Her actions highlight the fact that many within VMRO DPMNE have yet to fully accept the Prespa Agreement.

Spain is the only existing NATO member that has not yet approved North Macedonia’s accession; its parliament is expected to hold a ratification vote in March.