STA, 10 February 2019 - Talat Xhaferi , the speaker of the Macedonian parliament, will start a two-day visit to Slovenia on Monday that will culminate in him addressing the Slovenian National Assembly when MPs ratify the protocol on North Macedonia's accession to NATO.
The vote on Tuesday will make Slovenia the second country after Greece to endorse Macedonia's accession to NATO under its new name, North Macedonia, following the resolution of the long name dispute with Greece that has obstructed its EU and NATO aspirations.
On Monday, when the accession protocol will be debated by the Foreign Policy Committee, Xhaferi will be received by his counterpart Dejan Židan, President Borut Pahor, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec and Foreign Minister Miro Cerar.
He is also scheduled to meet a joint delegation of the parliamentary foreign policy, EU affairs and defence committees, and the group of Slovenian-Macedonian friendship.
On Tuesday, when the accession protocol will be put to the plenary at a session convened specifically for this purpose, Xhaferi will also hold talks with deputy group leaders.
The ratification is not questionable since Slovenia has been among the most vocal advocates of Macedonia's accession to the EU and NATO; this year and next its embassy in Skopje also doubles as the NATO contact embassy for the country.
The government endorsed the NATO accession protocol just a day after NATO ambassadors signed it in Brussels, kick-starting the ratification process in the NATO member states. The formalities are expected to take about a year.
The first country to ratify the protocol was Greece, which had for years hampered any progress towards NATO or EU accession due to a dispute over the country's name that was resolved with the Prespa Agreement in June 2018.
Xhaferi's talks with Slovenian officials will focus on these latest developments, but strengthening of bilateral political and economic cooperation will also be on the agenda.
The current situation in Western Balkans, relations with neighbouring countries, the global security situation, and migrations will be discussed as well, the National Assembly has said.
As former Yugoslav republics that secured independence, Macedonia and Slovenia have long had deep and friendly relations that extend beyond political ties.
And although trade is modest, at roughly EUR 300m, Slovenian companies are among the principal investors in Macedonia.
With NATO accession all but secured, the focus is now likely to shift on Macedonia's EU aspirations, which Slovenia has been a supporter of.
Slovenia has advocated the position that member states should endorse the start of EU membership talks with Macedonia, which has been a candidate country since 2005, a decision it expects to be taken before the summer.
It has long argued that despite its internal problems, the EU may not ignore Macedonia or Western Balkans in general, since many painful issues in the region remain unresolved and may erupt in conflict it left to fester.
Xhaferi visit will cap a lively political exchange in recent years that has included visits to Macedonia by Miro Cerar, first as prime minister in April 2018 and and then as foreign minister in October.
Speaker Dejan Židan was in Skopje in September, just before the referendum on the name deal, and Defence Minister Karl Erjavec paid an official visit in January.