Greece's Macedonia Vote Pushed to Friday as Debates Continue
(Bloomberg) -- The Greek parliament’s historic vote on the agreement with the Republic of Macedonia over the latter’s name, was pushed to Friday, with not enough time for all listed lawmakers to speak Thursday.
The accord is aimed at ending a decades-long dispute and removing an obstacle to the former Yugoslav republic joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who narrowly survived a confidence vote in government last week, looks set to get the backing of at least 153 lawmakers in the 300-seat chamber when they vote on the accord on Friday. That includes the 145 legislators from his own Syriza party and another eight from other parties who have indicated that they will support the accord.
With opinion polls showing the opposition New Democracy party will probably win elections due this year, ratification of the accord would leave Tsipras with a foreign-policy achievement after a tumultuous four years in power that almost saw the country crash out of the euro in 2015. The agreement has provoked a strong backlash in both countries.
The dispute centers on Greece’s insistence that the name “Macedonia” only applies to its northern province, the ancient stronghold of Alexander the Great. The parliament in Skopje reformed its constitution on Jan. 10 to change its name to Republic of North Macedonia, as agreed with Greece. Once the agreement is ratified, Greece will be able to support the country’s accession to NATO and the EU.
To complicate matters, the leader of New Democracy, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said Greece retains the right to veto its neighbor’s accession to the European Union at anytime. In a speech to lawmakers Thursday, Mitsotakis, who has a shot at becoming the next prime minister when elections are held, said the agreement between Greece and its neighbor is not binding on the question of accession to the EU.
Tsipras survived last week’s confidence vote after the leader of his coalition partner, Panos Kammenos, pulled out of the government in protest against the Macedonia accord.
Some 60,000 people marched in Greece’s capital to say that “Macedonia is Greek” in a demonstration on Sunday. It was the second such rally in Athens during the past 12 months and one of many across the country, while another smaller rally was held Thursday. About 3,000 people gathered outside the parliament during the plenary debate, while another 4,500, Communist Party supporters gathered in a different area in central Athens.
The backlash has also wrought carnage on two small, centrist groups. Defections have reduced Potami to just three lawmakers, below the threshold of five that’s required to be recognized as a parliamentary bloc, while the Movement for Change alliance has effectively been reduced to a divided Pasok rump after the loss of its sole lawmaker from the Democratic Left party, which decided to back the deal.
EU and NATO leaders have urged both countries to follow through, calling for a positive example in a region that’s still struggling to resolve grudges from the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia, Europe’s most deadly conflict since World War II. If Macedonia joins NATO, the military alliance will extend its influence to a place where Russia’s presence is strong.
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