Crisis grows in Greece over Macedonia name deal vote
As Macedonia moves closer to officially changing its name, a crucial vote in the Greek Parliament has sparked a crisis, with the defense minister leaving the ruling coalition
of the upcoming parliamentary vote to end a decades-long dispute with Macedonia, the head of the junior partner in Greece’s ruling coalition announced yesterday his resignation from his post as defense minister.
Party chief of the Independent Greeks (ANEL) and the country’s Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said his party would withdraw from the government of “national unity,” which he said had successfully delivered the country from the period of bailouts following the deep depression in the Greek economy after the 2008 global financial crisis.
“On the issue of Macedonia, I am not permitted to not sacrifice the seat,” Kammenos said in a statement following a 30-minute meeting with Prime Minster
Alexis Tsipras, adding that cooperation between ANEL and Tsipras’ Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) could not continue on the “national issue” of the Prespa Agreement with Skopje.
Kammenos has earlier threatened to pull out of the government when the deal comes to a vote, but some of his party’s MPs remain ambivalent. ANEL is the junior party in Greece’s ruling coalition and strongly opposes the name change, a rift that threatens to destabilize the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who helped broker the deal.
Macedonian lawmakers voted to rename their country the Republic of North Macedonia on Friday and the agreement now needs backing from the Greek Parliament to come into effect. However the proposal has been met with resistance by many in Greece, who object to its neighbor being called Macedonia because it has its own northern province of the same name.
Ahead of the vote in Athens, two news websites alleged that a prominent member of Greece’s main opposition New Democracy party, which rejects the name deal, called on its members to phone MPs of the ANEL party and urge them to vote against the agreement.
The New Democracy member allegedly revealed the personal mobile phone numbers of ANEL MPs. Athens News Agency said the news reports prompted the preliminary investigation into the allegations. The investigation, according to sources in the judiciary, is looking into whether personal data privacy was violated as part of the probe.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev on Saturday called on Greece to ratify the deal. "Our parliament found the strength but it wasn't easy. But I am convinced that the Greek parliament will also find the strength to make the decision," he said.
Negotiations between Macedonia and Greece had recently picked up pace as the new government in Skopje sought progress in its bid to join the two organizations after decades of stalled U.N.-mediated talks. The term "Macedonia" harks back to the ancient kingdom once ruled by Alexander. Greeks, who consider this one of the high points of their history, see the use of the name by their northern neighbor as an attempt to usurp their history.
Outgoing Greek Defense Minister and leader of the minor coalition party Independent Greeks Panos Kammenos speaks during a news conference after the announcement of his resignation, Athens, Jan. 13, 2019.