Greek government splits over Macedonia name change

PM Tsipras calls confidence vote after defence minister resigns and withdraws party from coalition government.

Alexis Tsipras
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called a confidence vote, scheduled for Wednesday [File: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]

Athens, Greece – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has asked parliament for a vote of confidence after a senior minister resigned over the Macedonia name change agreement, potentially leaving the governing coalition without a workable majority in parliament.

Defence Minister Panos Kammenos and his Independent Greeks party quit Greece‘s ruling coalition on Sunday over a deal struck with former Yugoslav Macedonia last June, which would rename that country North Macedonia.

Many Greeks believe that any name containing the term Macedonia would imply territorial claims on Greece’s northern province of the same name, incorporated into the Greek state in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.

“We cannot, for the sake of membership in the government, sacrifice Macedonia for which blood has been spilled,” Kammenos said on Sunday.

With the confidence vote scheduled for Wednesday, the prime minister’s Syriza party is six votes short of the 151 votes needed for a majority in the 300-seat chamber.

“I have made it absolutely clear … that faced with what is obviously beneficial to the nation, what is in the national interest, I shall not turn back, I shall not show cowardice, I shall not count the political cost,” Tsipras said on Sunday.

Kammenos has been in open disagreement with Tsipras since talks with former Yugoslav Macedonia began a year ago. When the deal was announced last June, the opposition conservatives brought a vote of no-confidence. Kammenos took an ambivalent stance, supporting the government even as he opposed the deal.

That stance split the party. At least two Independent Greeks MPs now say they will defect and side with the government. Another two votes could come from Independent Greeks MPs who are cabinet members and have not yet resigned, suggesting they will remain loyal to the government rather than their party. Tsipras could hope to pick up another two votes from among nine independents.


Should the government survive Wednesday’s vote, it has hopes of passing the Macedonia deal by virtue of the same minority.

Kammenos’ departure was triggered by the ratification of the agreement in the former Yugoslav Macedonian parliament on Friday. Kammenos had said he didn’t believe either parliament would ratify it and was apparently surprised.

Greeks who oppose the name deal applaud what Kammenos did, even if the action came late.

“The government should fall and the agreement should not pass. There is only one Macedonia and it is Greek,” said lawyer, Zoi Perili. “This agreement, in the distant future, could prove to be against our country. Sooner or later Skopje will seek an outlet to the sea. The nearest port is Thessaloniki.”

Others believe Kammenos’ departure came too late to prevent the deal.

“The agreement has been in process for a year. We knew Skopje would pass it … [Independent Greeks] waited until the last possible minute,” says Dimitris Bovaris. “When you make promises as a country, you have to come through on them. The Greek government undertook a commitment to ratify this agreement if it was ratified by the other side. So this is theatre. It won’t end well.”

The constitution allows for a minority government for as long as opposition parties will tolerate it. It also allows bills to pass on the basis of a majority of MPs present, rather than absolute majorities.

On the basis of these minimum standards, the Syriza government could technically continue to govern and attempt to bring the Macedonia name deal to the floor without securing 151 votes. However, the government has said that it does not consider this option politically viable.

Source: Al Jazeera