Greece’s main opposition leader urged lawmakers Saturday to support his no-confidence vote against the government over a deal to end a decades-old dispute with neighboring Macedonia over the latter’s name.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ left-led coalition government is expected to survive the vote, set for later Saturday. His government controls 154 of parliament’s 300 seats. The nationalist party that is a junior coalition partner says it will reject the motion despite vehemently opposing the name deal that Tsipras reached with his Macedonian counterpart.
“Today you are all mortgaging the future of the country,” said conservative New Democracy party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who brought the no-confidence motion.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who heads the junior coalition partner, the Independent Greeks party, stressed that Saturday’s vote was not on the Macedonia name deal itself, which his party opposes.
“Today we are not voting on the deal,” he said.
Tsipras and Macedonia’s Zoran Zaev settled on a deal Tuesday that would rename Greece’s northern neighbor North Macedonia, while Athens would drop its objections to the country joining NATO and the European Union.
The agreement aimed to end a bitter dispute that has roiled the two countries’ relations since shortly after the small country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece argued that the name “Macedonia” implied territorial claims on its province of the same name, which is the birthplace of the ancient warrior king Alexander the Great, and usurped its ancient Greek heritage and history.
But hardliners in both countries are furious at the deal, which they consider concedes too much to the other side.
Thousands of people waving Greek flags protest in front of parliament during Saturday’s debate, chanting anti-government slogans. Minor scuffles broke out.
Still, the crowd was a far cry from the more than 100,000 people who turned out in the Greek capital months ago to protest compromises over Macedonia’s new name.
The deal is tentatively set to be signed by the two countries’ foreign ministers Sunday in the Prespa Lakes region on the border. Protests are being planned nearby on both sides of the border.
“With the signing of the agreement between Macedonia and Greece, everyone will benefit,” Zaev told reporters in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov stressed the importance of the name deal, which would pave the way for the country to join NATO and the European Union.
“We have forces that are fighting for the future, we have forces that are fighting for the past,” Dimitrov said in Skopje. “We cannot change the past, we could the future.”
The ratification process will take several months.
In Macedonia, the agreement must clear the hurdles of parliamentary ratification, a referendum in September and a constitutional amendment. Opponents include the conservative opposition party and the country’s president Gjorge Ivanov, who has said he will not sign off on the agreement. Zaev has said he will put the deal to a referendum in the fall.
In Greece, the deal only faces ratification in parliament once Macedonia has completed its part of the process.
However, the right-wing Independent Greeks party opposes the deal and has said it will not support the agreement when it comes up for ratification in parliament. That would leave Tsipras dependent on opposition parties to pass the measure.
Jasmina Mironski in Skopje contributed.
Source: Associated Press