Tsipras Wins Greece Confidence Vote, Prepares for Next Challenge

(Bloomberg) -- Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras saw off the latest challenge to his government, winning the fourth confidence vote of his term in office. Now comes the hard part.

After surviving a confidence motion late Wednesday with 151 votes in Greece’s 300-seat chamber, the 44-year-old premier needs to figure out how to ratify a landmark accord with the neighboring Republic of Macedonia, after his coalition partner pulled out of the government in protest over the deal.

While the vote allows Tsipras to extend his stay in power until September, when his term ends, he may find it difficult to legislate with a minority government. He will again need support from 151 lawmakers to approve the so-called Prespes agreement, which ends a decade-long dispute by allowing Greece’s northern neighbor to call itself Republic of North Macedonia.

“This is a Pyrrhic victory for the government,” said Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law and economics at the University of Athens. “The good thing is that before its fall, the government majority will pass the Prespes agreement. It is an agreement which has been justly criticized, has many weaknesses, however, it is a rather decent and fair compromise which will benefit Greece in the long run.”

Challenge Ahead

The party of Tsipras’s erstwhile coalition partner Panos Kammenos, Independent Greeks, was divided over the deal and three of its lawmakers voted against Tsipras in the confidence motion. Kammenos and his supporters will almost certainly vote against the Prespes accord too. Two ex-Independent Greek lawmakers who backed Tsipras Wednesday are also against any use of the word Macedonia other than for the Greek region of that name, and thus likely can’t be counted on for further support.

More troubling for the premier: the Potami party, which has backed the deal all along, may not actually vote in favor, in retaliation for one of its lawmakers supporting Tsipras in the confidence motion.

Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev in June forged the Prespes deal to resolve the naming dispute. Greece’s neighbor officially changed its name Jan. 10 via a constitutional reform, a process that nearly cost Zaev his own job as premier. The agreement paves the way for the country’s accession to NATO and the European Union, a process which had been stalled due to Greece’s veto over the dispute.

“We expect Mr Tsipras’s government to manage to push through the name agreement in parliament, albeit by a narrow margin,” Maximillien Lambertson, Country Risk Manager for Eastern Europe at the Economist Intelligence Unit said. “This means that Macedonia could open accession negotiations with the EU in June.”

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