SKOPJE, North Macedonia -- Lawmakers in North Macedonia unanimously ratified an agreement Tuesday to make the landlocked country in southern Europe the 30th member of the NATO military alliance.
All 114 lawmakers present in the 120-seat parliament voted in favor of ratification. A NATO flag was raised outside the building during a brief ceremony.
The vote took place several weeks ahead of schedule because the current parliament is set to dissolve at the end of the week, ahead of an election planned for April 12.
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.
Joining NATO and the European Union has been a priority for the former Yugoslav republic's leaders, but a dispute with neighboring Greece over the country's name deterred progress for more than two decades.
North Macedonia previously was known as Macedonia, a name it shared with a Greek province. A 2017 deal with Greece to break the deadlock called for renaming the smaller and younger country North Macedonia. In return, Greece agreed to drop its objections to its neighbor's NATO and eventual EU membership.
Greece was the first country to ratify North Macedonia’s accession to the western military alliance.
“By joining this alliance, we are not simply joining an international organization," North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski told lawmakers before the vote. "Membership of the world’s most powerful military-political alliance is a privilege, but also a huge responsibility.”
He described the vote as “a major step in completing Macedonian statehood and a (guarantee) for our territorial integrity and sovereignty.” North Macedonia and Albania hope to start membership talks with the EU that were blocked in October by France and the Netherlands. The United States and its European allies backed the two country's efforts to start the EU talks, fearing competition for influence in the Balkans from China and Russia.