Name Dispute: Prespes Agreement reaction destabilises Greek political scene

Protesters, opposing the name dispute agreement between Greece and FYROM, hold Greek flags and shout slogans during a protest in Thessaloniki, Greece, 04 July 2018. EPA-EFE/FANI TRIPSANI

US Vice President Pence intervenes to support deal in Athens, Skopje


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In Greece, the furore over the Prespes Agreement that was intended to resolve the Name Dispute between Greece and Macedonia/FYROM continues to grow, and the country is rapidly moving into the full pre-election political mode.

In Skopje, the second ratification vote for the Prespes agreement easily passed through the Macedonia/FYROM Parliament and President Gjorge Ivanov‘s options for blocking it are dwindling. New information about the timing of the planned referendum and constitutional revisions in Macedonia/FYROM takes them into early 2019, which means the ratification vote in Greece for the Prespes Agreement — and much of the attendant political fallout — cannot happen until early 2019, paving the way for Greek analysts to generate new volumes of election date scenarios.

With the NATO Summit approaching next week, US Vice President Mike Pence called both countries’ prime ministers on July 5 in a not-so-subtle attempt to keep the ratification processes on track in both countries.

Kammenos threatens Tsipras: 180 to ratify Prespes Agreement or referendum

All eyes in Greece remain focused on the Independent Greeks (ANEL) party — the minority coalition partner for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ SYRIZA party — and its president, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos.

He laid out his latest threat to Greek PM Tsipras over the Name Dispute on July 3. In what most see as a last-ditch attempt to save his sagging-in-the-polls party, Kammenos explained that he would make sure the Prespes Agreement, which he saw as a “bad” agreement would never enter into force and challenged the authority of Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias to commit the Greek people to a solution with his signature alone (meaning before parliamentary ratification). “For me, the deal is bad, I don’t accept it and will try to block it,” Kammenos said.

Acting as a defender of democratic values, Kammenos said he was almost certain the deal would not be approved by Skopje. In the unlikely event that it did get though the hurdles there, Kammenos said he would demand his coalition partner allow the Greek people to weigh in on the deal, which it so far has resolutely not allowed. “As far as Greece is concerned I will make sure that the deal will not be ratified without the approval of the Greek people,” he said.

Kammenos also claimed he would demand that Tsipras either take the Prespes Agreement to a referendum or pass it through parliament with an enhanced majority of 180; failing that he would leave the coalition which could trigger elections. Since either of those democratic actions regarding the ratification is understood to reduce the chance of the Prespes Agreement passing to almost zero, Kammenos’ threats must be taken seriously, and it appears SYRIZA is doing so.

The unanswered question many analysts are asking revolves around the ongoing fragmentation of the Greek centre-left which would theoretically allow SYRIZA to make up for some (or all) of the loss of ANEL support in Parliament if the coalition splits or even for opposition New Democracy to gain a few seats. The main development of interest was the announcement July 1 by the small centre-left To Potami (The River) party that it was leaving The Movement for Change (KINAL) – an umbrella grouping of centre-left parties.

Ratification process advances in Skopje

As expected, the second vote to ratify the Prespes Agreement was an easy win for Macedonia/FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. In an almost complete replay of the first vote June 20 when the opposition VMRO-DPMNE boycotted the vote, the second vote on July 5 breezed through parliament with 69 in favour out of a total of 120 seats. Again boycotting, the opposition described the agreement as “capitulation”. Ivanov previously refused to sign the document when sent to him in June but legally cannot block it at this point despite extreme posturing. The Speaker of the Parliament, ethnic Albanian Talat Xhaferi, has indicated the law will soon be published in the official gazette without Ivanov’s signature, but the President’s next moves remain open, as do Zaev’s.

Referendum date in Macedonia/FYROM pushed back

There is now some clarity as to when Zaev intends to hold the referendum and legislate constitutional changes required in the Prespes Agreement. Instead of completing these steps in the early fall of 2018 as had been previously mentioned, the final date appears to have slipped to January 2019. The reasons for this delay are not yet clear and there is no information that would indicate Zaev’s referendum proposal or constitutional revisions will win. The new dates allow Greek political analysts to begin crafting election timetables for the Greek elections, considering the timing of the Greek ratification vote for the Prespes Agreement which must follow the completion of the referendum and other steps in Macedonia/FYROM. Greek Parliamentary elections must be held by fall 2019 at the latest, so the main question is how much earlier they will actually occur, and Greek analysts are now actively theorizing about early 2019 scenarios.

The US overtly intervenes to support foundering deal

With the NATO Summit approaching on July 11-12, Vice President Pence called both countries’ prime ministers on July 5 in a not-so-subtle attempt to keep the ratification processes on track in both countries. This call was advertised in advance so news media in both countries could highlight the call in the evening news hours before it happened. Based on patterns previously seen, some observers speculate that the call may have been requested by one or both leaders to provide a demonstration of “active US interest” which provides political cover for pushing forward when the resistance is heavy.

Pence’s twitter readout of the Tsipras call noted he “offered U.S. support for the historic agreement to resolve the long-standing name issue with Skopje. Successful implementation of this agreement will bolster the region’s prosperity and stability”.

With Zaev, Pence offered support and noted: “The successful implementation will open the door to European integration and bolster the region’s prosperity and stability”.

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