Family history explains New Democracy opposition to Athens-Skopje name deal, says EPP’s Brok

Elmar Brok: "It is up to New Democracy to decide but I hope, nevertheless, that we can come to a positive result." [Shutterstock]

Painful family history partly explains  the opposition of Greece’s New Democracy to the freshly agreed deal between Athens and Skopje on the Macedonian name dispute, says Elmar Brok, the EPP’s frontman on foreign affairs issues.

Athens and Skopje resolved a nearly three-decade-old name row on 12 June by agreeing to the name Republic of North Macedonia, opening the road for the landlocked Balkan country to start EU accession talks and join NATO.

However, the deal reached between Greek premier Alexis Tsipras and his FYROM counterpart Zoran Zaev has not at all pleased the main opposition parties in their countries.

Both Greece’s New Democracy and FYROM’s VMRO-DPMNE belong to the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), which has previously expressed its desire for the name deadlock to be resolved.

“They [New Democracy / VMRO-DPMNE] should look at these issues from a broader point of view, taking into account all the complexities, the situation and the consequences of a positive or negative result of this issue, both for Macedonia and Greece,” Eduard Kukan, an EPP MEP on the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said last week.

However, FYROM’s centre-right President Gjorge Ivanov has said he will not sign a deal on changing his country’s name. Because of that, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov cancelled a scheduled meeting with Ivanov yesterday (14 June).

Ivanov was in Bulgaria on a long-planned visit at the invitation of President Rumen Radev. According to protocol, he was supposed to be received by the Prime Minister.

“Our position [on the name dispute] is clear. The position of the [FYROM] president is also clear. We see no reason to use us in the internal political discussions in Skopje,” the centre-right (EPP) Bulgarian government said in a statement.

In Athens, Kyriakos Mitsotakis called a censure vote against the government in a bid to block the deal he calls “harmful” for Greek interests.

Elmar Brok, seen as a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, expressed his hope that all sides will be able to agree to end the dispute.

“Because then, we will have a decades-long crisis solved […] I hope that this issue will be discussed in its essence and party fights will be avoided.”

The German politician explained that if the agreement moves on, the doors will open for FYROM to join NATO and apply for EU negotiations and this will be a “very bad deal for Russia”.

“Therefore, it is a way to decrease the influence of Russia in the region,” he emphasised.

‘Great understanding’ for Mitsotakis

Commenting on the stance of the New Democracy leader in Greece, Brok said he had “a great understanding” of the problems Mitsotakis faces in his party, because of what happened to his father Konstantinos Mitsotakis in 1992, whose government collapsed because of the name dispute.

Brok referred to the turmoil in New Democracy that erupted when the then minister of foreign affairs Antonis Samaras disagreed with a two-name solution proposed by Konstantinos Mitsotakis, and resigned, leading to the collapse of the government a few months later.

Samaras, who also served as prime minister of Greece from 2012 to 2015, is still an influential party member and firmly opposes the inclusion of the term “Macedonia” in the northern neighbour’s name.

Samaras has called the deal reached between Athens and Skopje “an unnecessary and humiliating compromise”.

Brok reiterated his understanding for Mitsotakis junior, but noted this should be kept under control and expressed the wish “to come to a positive conclusion at the end of the day”.

“It is up to New Democracy to decide but I hope, nevertheless, that we can come to a positive result,” Brok said, adding that Athens needs “guarantees” that Skopje has no claims over Greece’s own Macedonia province in the north of the country.

‘Standing ovation’

EURACTIV asked yesterday EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, herself a socialist, to comment on the fact that the EPP was the only major political group that hasn’t so far officially supported the solution found to the name dispute.

Mogherini said that she was in the European Parliament when the “good news” of the deal arrived, and that when she announced it in the hemicycle, there had been “a standing ovation” from all political groups.

“I would not comment here and today of single steps that might be taken or should be taken from one political party or family, or the other”, she added.

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