It’s a serious question for Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who has seen the press in Greece go into frenzy every time an EPP official takes a line against the official position of New Democracy in Greece. Mitsotakis and his political party strongly oppose the deal that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has come to with the government in Skopje, but they are up against political forces internationally who would like to see the deal go through to ensure the stability of the region.
Last week, a comment was made by EPP European Commission President candidate, Manfred Weber, during an on-background press briefing – meaning that no statements made were for attribution. News website Euractiv went rogue and published his statement in contradiction to journalistic practices, sending the Greek national press machine into overdrive.
The news website justified its actions by saying, “In our view, politicians should be able to take responsibility for what they say and not hide behind the form of their appearances: on-the-record, background, off-the-record, deep background and what have you. We published what Weber said about Macedonia also because we like his statement” (emphasis in original). It remains to be seen if the journalists involved will be sanctioned, though don’t expect anything major – at worst they won’t be invited to the next EPP event – though someone else from Euractiv likely will.
Going back to the main issue of this editorial: What is the value for Mitsotakis, that his party is a member party of the EPP? Historically, being a member of the EPP has meant being part of the most influential political family in Europe. You had regular opportunities to exchange views with some of the most power heads of state of Europe – to make your case, and to have their backing when things got tough.
But the long enduring Greece-Macedonia/FYROM Name Dispute has left New Democracy scratching their heads. It is one of the only big-ticket items Mitsotakis had on the agenda that depended on the EPP for their support to. We’re talking about an issue that no one in Europe cared about until twelve months ago, except for the parties involved. An issue seen as a bilateral issue between Greece and soon to be North Macedonia, that was the major blockage point for any advancement in the political advancement of the later. Largely, the reason no one cared is because the powerful New Democracy influence in national politics allowed them to impose this to the European stage through the EPP.
But with New Democracy’s fall from grace, so too did their influence dwindle. And as soon as Tsipras made headway with an actual deal, the dominos begun to fall.
Regardless of what the EPP’s position on the issue is, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Greece last week to pressure Tsipras further to ratify this deal, the benefits of being an EPP member have been lost. The biggest political power in the political family has turned against a member party, over an issue that was once considered a bilateral nuisance. Once upon a time, it would have been enough for the New Democracy strongman at the helm to call the Chancellor and explain that this is the position they expect the EPP member allies to follow. Instead, Merkel has a political position about a country far away from her own, that trumps the position of the EPP member party directly involved.
The reality is there is also another EPP power player who got involved with skin in the game. Bulgarian Prime Minister and EPP heavyweight, Boyko Borissov, took a clear line at the EPP Congress in Helsinki in November stating: “What is happening? The Social Democrat party in Macedonia wants to join EU and NATO, the Greek far left wants its neighbour Macedonia to join the EU and NATO, but our sister parties in Macedonia and Greece don’t want it. I want to ask a simple question. Is there discipline in the EPP or not?”
It seems that the importance of the issue has outgrown its national dimension. The accession of soon to be North Macedonia into NATO will bring much desired stability to the region. But even so, what can we do but ask – what are the benefits that Mitsotakis is getting from the EPP? And should he not carry more weight, if he is soon to be one of the few Prime Ministers they will have left on the European Council?
Let’s not forget, Mitsotakis is a centrist within the party, and many have expressed their closeness with the political narrative of soon to be ALDE spiritual guru, Emmanuel Macron. New Democracy’s long history in the EPP is certainly holding things in place. But as elections come closer, both in Greece in Europe, everything could change under the right (or wrong) conditions.
Ultimately, Borissov is right. There is no discipline in the EPP.