Greek Government Wobbles as Ally Threatens Exit on Macedonia
(Bloomberg) -- Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is on the verge of resolving a decade-long dispute with the Republic of Macedonia, but forging a compromise could cost him a coalition partner.
Tsipras was scheduled to meet Friday with his ally, Independent Greeks party leader and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, in a bid to ease tensions in the run-up to a vote in parliament on the deal. Greece’s northern neighbor has sometimes been forced to call itself Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, abbreviated as FYROM, due to objections from Athens to its shorter name.
The meeting was postponed until after completion of the procedure in Macedonia to pass an amendment to rename the country.
Kammenos, who stands firmly against any use of the word Macedonia in the northern Balkan country’s name, has threatened to pull the plug on the Tsipras-led coalition when the deal comes to a vote. Tsipras insists he could still muster a majority with lawmakers from other parties -- and he may well find enough who are prepared to swallow their nationalist pride in order to hang on to their jobs.
The next election is due in the fall, but Tsipras could opt to go early anyway because he risks heavy losses in May’s European Parliamentary ballot and that would put him on the back foot for a campaign later in the year.
Macedonia made the unusual concession of effectively giving its neighbor veto power over its own name in June, when Tsipras and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev met in the northern Greek municipality of Prespes and agreed that the country could call itself the Republic of North Macedonia. Greece in exchange pledged support for its neighbor’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, both of which it had previously blocked.
Greek nationalists claim the name Macedonia should refer only to their own country’s northern region, which was Alexander the Great’s stronghold in ancient times.
Once the name change is official, the Greek parliament will need to approve the agreement with a simple majority of 151 votes, probably later this month. Tsipras says he has the votes to win even without the Independent Greeks.
While the odd-ball government -- made up of Tsipras’s Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, and the right-wing Independent Greeks -- has proved surprisingly durable over its four years in power, most analysts say the prime minister will have no choice but to call a confidence vote if Kammenos and his ministers pull out.
Kammenos “will not lift his support from this government,” Tsipras said in an interview with Greece’s Open TV on Wednesday. The prime minister is confident Independent Greeks would support the government in a confidence vote despite the rift, he said.
While Tsipras could remain in power simply by prevailing in the confidence measure, legislating without Independent Greeks would be challenging.
“Even if Tsipras secures parliamentary approval for the Prespes deal and survives a censure motion, a Syriza-led minority government is unlikely to last” until the parliamentary term ends in September, Teneo Intelligence Co-President Wolfango Piccoli wrote in a note.
A loss of the confidence vote would force the premier to call new elections, though the timing of any new vote is unclear given that Tsipras has pledged that Greece won’t return to the polls until the government completes a series of measures to stabilize the economy, including constitutional reform, new legislation to protect homeowners and an increase in the minimum wage.
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