Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has a lot riding on resolving a seven-decade naming dispute with his country’s northern neighbor, the Republic of Macedonia. Though the two sides are moving toward finalizing an agreement, the peril for Tsipras isn’t over. That’s because the accord could cost him his government, precipitating a snap election before its term expires in October 2019.
1. What’s the naming dispute?
The Republic of Macedonia, an independent state of 2 million people born out of the breakup of Yugoslavia, wants to join NATO and the European Union. But Greece, which as a member of the groups has a veto over new admissions, insists that the name Macedonia should refer only to its own northern region, which was Alexander the Great’s stronghold in ancient times. In June, Tsipras and his counterpart, Zoran Zaev, agreed that the Republic of Macedonia would change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia. The agreement was approved in a referendum and by parliament in Macedonia, triggering the process for a constitutional reform to change the country’s name.
2. What’s left for Greece to do?
After Macedonia reforms its constitution, the Greek parliament would need to ratify the agreement. Tsipras’s ruling coalition holds a simple majority of the 300 seats, which is what’s needed for passage. But its junior partner, the nationalist Independent Greeks party, strongly opposes any use of the word Macedonia by the country to the north.
3. So what’s expected to happen?
Tsipras would most likely get sufficient support in parliament for ratification from outside his coalition, since lawmakers from other parties have been rooting for the agreement. But Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leader of the Independent Greeks, who has repeatedly threatened to quit the coalition government should the accord come to parliament for a vote, is expected to withdraw his ministers from the government and quit his ministerial position. This would most likely trigger a no-confidence motion in the Greek Parliament against Tsipras’s administration. Kammenos has vowed to back Tsipras’s government should this happen, extending the ruling party’s stay in power for a few more months. However, the lack of a parliamentary majority could eventually force Tsipras to call early elections.
4. Why is the Macedonia issue important to Tsipras?
In a re-election campaign, he’d like to cite a resolution to this historic dispute as one of his accomplishments, along with pulling Greece out of financial bailouts and the painful conditions that came with them. He made a big bet that he could resolve the Macedonia conflict, personally taking over the foreign ministry in October and committing to see the agreement through. His administration could use a foreign policy win, particularly after 2017 talks with Turkey failed to advance efforts to reunify a divided Cyprus. If Macedonia joins NATO, the military alliance will extend its influence to a place where Russia’s presence is strong, improving regional security and, the Tsipras administration hopes, earning Greece credit with its neighbors.
To contact the reporter on this story: Eleni Chrepa in Athens at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jerrold Colten at email@example.com, Lisa Beyer, Sotiris Nikas
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