‘North Macedonia’ deal shakes Greek government, Tsipras calls vote of confidence

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras needs 151 votes to stay in power and get the name deal through parliament. [Photo: Sarantis Michalopoulos]

Skopje’s ratification of the so-called name-change deal has triggered a government crisis in Greece, when the leader of the conservative junior coalition partner, Independent Greeks, stepped down on Sunday (13 January).

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras immediately called a vote of confidence after Minister for Defence Panos Kammenos resigned, a process due to start on 15 January and finish with a vote the day after.

Unlike Syriza, the Independent Greeks party opposes the name deal, the so-called Prespa agreement. Now that the parliament in Skopje has finally ratified the deal, the ball is in the court of the Greek parliament, where the two forces will oppose each other.

Speaking about the name-change deal, Tsipras said Greece needed to regain its leading role in the Balkans.

“We need to ensure that the country through its alliances and its steady course is a pillar of stability and security in the southeast Mediterranean. For me, this is a national goal,” Tsipras said.

Geopolitical stakes

If the Prespa agreement is ratified by the Greek parliament, the new name of the neighbouring country will officially become the “Republic of North Macedonia” and Greece will back its NATO accession and membership negotiations with the EU.

Unlike his predecessors, Tsipras does not want Greece to be an obstacle for the Euro-Atlantic future of the former Yugoslav republic.

The geopolitical stakes of the Greek ratification are high. Failure to ratify the deal would be a victory for Moscow and would undermine the process of bringing the Western Balkans closer to the EU.

“I have been absolutely clear that in front of this national goal, I will not take any step back, I will not be afraid, I will not consider the risk and the political cost,” he added.

Sources have told EURACTIV.com that excluding “surprises”, Tsipras would secure the necessary 151 votes. This practically means a simple majority (out of 300 lawmakers), which will help Syriza remain in power as well as approve the agreement.

EPP’s Weber comes out on Macedonia name change deal

Manfred Weber, the Spitzenkandidat of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), ended months of silence on the ongoing efforts to resolve the Greece-Macedonia name row with a couple of pithy comments on Tuesday (9 January) that appear to support the deal.

“Barring unforeseen circumstances, Tsipras will get the necessary votes,” a source close to the issue told EURACTIV.

Syriza currently has 145 lawmakers. Four Independent Greeks are expected to vote in favour of the government, as well as Katerina Papakosta, an independent MP who is currently minister of public order, and Spyros Danellis, a lawmaker from the centrist Potami party.

Danellis, a former MEP who has publicly backed the Prespa Agreement, told EURACTIV that he would vote in favour of the government.

“Everything I’ve said all these months remains the same. The country is in front of major and historical decisions. Nothing has changed regarding my opinion,” Danellis said.

Toward a ‘progressive’ alliance

Syriza sees the departure of Independent Greeks as an opportunity to open the door to progressive forces. The Independent Greeks, a right-wing populist force, was not a natural ally, but Syriza needed their 10 votes following the September 2015 parliamentary elections.

“The Prespa Agreement will help reshape the political landscape in our country,” Dimitris Papadimoulis, Syriza MEP and a vice-president of the EU Parliament, said.

Speaking at an event on the Prespa Agreement on 13 January, Tsipras urged “progressive forces” to form an alliance ahead of the next national and EU elections.

Regarding the EU elections, the Greek leader said there was a need to form a large alliance of the European Left, ecology and social democracy “unleashed by the self-destructive attachment to the neo-liberal and conservative framework in the new European Parliament”.

EURACTIV understands that the Greek government will seek a governance model similar to those of Portugal and Spain.

The progressive push is in line with the objectives of the EU social democrats. In an interview with EURACTIV in May 2018, S&D chief Udo Bullmann urged Greek progressives to join forces against conservative New Democracy (European People’s Party).

S&D chief tells Greek progressives to rally against New Democracy ‘chaos’

S&D President Udo Bullmann called on progressive political forces in Greece to join forces as the “only way to the country’s future” and not turn to a conservative New Democracy government, which has a big responsibility for the crisis.

However, the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), the sister party of S&D in Greece, opposes both the Prespa Agreement and future collaboration with Syriza.

When the S&D hailed the name change deal’s approval in Skopje, Pasok MEP Eva Kaili expressed her disappointment.

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