COLOGNE, Germany — The Spanish Senate on Tuesday ratified the accession protocol for North Macedonia to join NATO, clearing another hurdle for the country to become the alliance’s 30th member.

In a session that had lawmakers remotely vote due to fears over the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, in the Madrid parliament, the move made Spain the last country to approve the former Yugoslavian country’s membership bid.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg hailed the news in a Twitter message. “With that, all allies have welcomed our soon-to-be 30th member,” he wrote. “Congratulations, North Macedonia!”

The office of Spain's ambassador to the alliance said on Twitter that King Felipe had signed the bill “immediately” after its approval. “In the next 72 hours, Spain will deposit its instrument of ratification in the U.S. State Department,” officials wrote.

North Macedonia’s NATO application has been pending for more than 10 years due to a dispute with southern neighbor Greece, which objected to the country’s previous name — Macedonia — because a province named thusly exists there.

It took a name change to North Macedonia, formalized in 2018, to end the logjam. The change also enables the country to apply to join the European Union.

North Macedonia's quest for NATO membership began in 1995, when the country joined the alliance's Partnership for Peace program. The formal membership path was initiated at the 1999 Washington Summit together with other former Soviet bloc members, notably the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, called attention to the difficult circumstances of the vote in Madrid. “Thanks to our Spanish ally, which has done this despite dealing with the challenges of the Corona Virus there,” he wrote on Twitter. “Perhaps NATO can lean into the virus with collective military medical capabilities as well."

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

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