Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote following the withdrawal of the nationalist ANEL party from the ruling coalition led by his Syriza party. The withdrawal was in protest to the progression of the Prespa Agreement between Greece and Macedonia, which aimed to settle the longstanding name dispute between the two countries that has persisted since the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1992. Under the terms of the Prespa Agreement, Macedonia would change its name from the Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. By doing so, the Greek government would relent using its veto on Macedonia’s applications to the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Prespa Agreement was finalized in June 2018 between Greece and Macedonia, which resulted in a national referendum in Macedonia to decide if the country should adhere to the agreement. Despite the low voter turnout of 36.8% the decision to change Macedonia’s name received overwhelming support, which sent the decision to be approved in Macedonia’s parliament. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, an ardent supporter of the agreement, received parliamentary approval and voted to rename the country. Following approval from Macedonia, the Greek parliament is required to ratify the Prespa Agreement which resulted in protest from the nationalistic ANEL party leader and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos. The withdrawal of the ANEL party led to the breakup of the ruling coalition, with Tsipras subsequently calling for the no-confidence vote himself.
European leaders have expressed their support for the agreement between the two countries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged both sides to support the deal. EU Commissioner for Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherini, strongly supports the deal and is satisfied the EU and Macedonia can work toward a common interest. Other neighbours are less likely to be as supportive as former U.S Defense Secretary James Mattis, who warned that Russia may attempt to interfere with voting and negotiations to prevent another Balkan country from becoming a NATO member. Evidence suggests that Russia attempted to prevent the former Yugoslav republic, Montenegro, from joining NATO last year. Within Greece and Macedonia, much of the protests have come from nationalist groups arguing that both countries conceded too much. However, it seems the majority of people in either country are satisfied with the deal.
The dispute stems from the Greeks claiming that Macedonia is attempting to appropriate Greek culture and history by using the name. Macedonia is the ancestral home of the famous Alexander the Great who conquered the known world in the 4th century BCE. With a northern Greek province called Macedonia and many millions of Greeks identifying as Macedonians, some 73% of Greeks oppose any non-Greek use of Macedonia. Additionally, Greece has used the dispute as reason to veto any application by Macedonia to join both the EU and NATO, which Greece is a member of both.
Surviving the no-confidence vote, Tsipras can now focus on garnering support in the Greek Parliament to ratify the Prespa Agreement. If the deal is to be ratified, Macedonia can progress to two of its main national interests, joining the EU and NATO, without Greek interference. Despite the recent political hurdles, it appears both sides are moving towards a resolving a decades old dispute.
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