June 13, 2018
Macedonia - a deal hailed internationally and challenged at home
The diplomatic world hailed the agreement between Skopje and Athens as a historic breakthrough. The new name for both domestic and international purposes would be Republic of Northern Macedonia. It ends a bitter 27-year name dispute that kept Macedonia out of international institutions such as Nato and prevented an EU membership application. The details of the agreement have yet to emerge, though.
At home this deal remains controversial in both countries. It is threatening to split the Greek government coalition and cause a rift between the Macedonian prime minister and president. In both countries the main opposition parties have rejected the deal. Kyriakos Mitsotakis from New Democracy went so far as to question Alexis Tsipras' legitimacy to sign a treaty that does not have the support of his own government, according to To Vima. Organisers of past rallies against a deal accuse Alexis Tsipras of high treason. Opponents in both countries perceive that their own side capitulated and gave in to the demands of the other.
The plan is that the two foreign ministers will sign the deal first, then it is to be ratified in the Macedonian parliament. Tsipras said Greece will back Macedonia's application to join Nato, contingent on constitutional changes including the name written in the constitution, to which the Macedonian president is opposed. Without those changes, neither can they join Nato nor can EU accession talks start, Tsipras warned. The changes will have to be confirmed in a referendum, which the Macedonian government plans to hold in the autumn, and subsequently approved by the parliament.
On the Greek side, the position of Panos Kammenos is a political problem for Tsipras, according to Macropolis. Without the support of his junior coalition partner Anel, Tsipras will have to fish for support among other parties. To Potami's leader Stavros Theodorakis indicated they back a deal. This will come to a head once Macedonia does its part. In the meantime, the rift in the coalition raises the question whether the Greek government retains the necessary credibility to govern. Mitsotakis' hardline stance in opposing the deal and questioning its legitimacy also keeps the government on its toes, and the right wing of his party engaged. He called the recognition of the Macedonian language and nationality as unacceptable concessions. Mitsotakis can be expected to ride on any public reaction against the agreement.