Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

Greek government coalition on edge over Macedonia name deal

Right-wing defence minister Panos Kammenos is pulling out of government over last June's Prespa agreement

Greece’s right-wing defence minister announced on Sunday that he was pulling his party out of government in protest at a deal to end a long-running dispute with Macedonia over its name.

The resignation of Panos Kammenos plunged the future of the coalition government into uncertainty as Greece prepares to hold national elections in a few months.

Mr Kammenos, whose Independent Greeks party is a member of the government of Alexis Tsipras since 2015, has long opposed the accord with neighbouring Macedonia, which the latter formally ratified on Friday.

After meeting the prime minister on Sunday morning, Mr Kammenos said he would also pull six other ministers from his party out of the government.

The Independent Greeks party has seven MPs, enough to get Mr Tsipras's administration past the threshold of 150 deputies in the 300-member parliament. Mr Tsipras's Syriza party has 145 seats and the support of one independent MP.

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The departure of his political ally has left the prime minister bereft of a parliamentary majority, raising the possibility of snap elections. Mr Tsipras said on Sunday he would call for a confidence vote in his government, which is expected to take place later this week.

“I have taken my decision and have informed the president of parliament that we will immediately move to the process outlined by the constitution for the renewal of the confidence in my government,” Mr Tsipras said.

Mr Kammenos has been publicly hostile to the deal with Skopje, which renames the Balkan country Republic of North Macedonia.

As Greece has a province called Macedonia, it has long demanded Skopje change its name. Athens claims its neighbour’s name is an implied claim to Greek territory.

For decades, the northern state was known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in order to join international organisations, but the workaround was insufficient for Greece to approve any EU or Nato accession talks with Skopje.

Mr Kammenos, however, rejected any claim to the name “Macedonia” on the part of the Balkan country and said the deal was a sell-out.

The government is hoping the deal will still go ahead with the support of centre-left and independent MPs.

Greece and Macedonia had formally agreed to the deal in June last year, but ratification is needed from the parliaments of both countries for it to become effective.

Updated: January 14, 2019 12:15 PM

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