ATHENS (Reuters) - A deal to end a decades-long name dispute between Greece and Macedonia is at risk after the Greek defense minister said he would try to block it, also underscoring the fragility of Greece’s ruling left-right coalition a year before elections.
With a razor-thin majority in parliament, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will need the support of Panos Kammenos’s seven lawmakers for the name deal to be ratified, or be left rummaging around for support from a smattering of independents.
But in his first comments since the controversial pact was signed on June 17, defense minister Kammenos told a news conference on Tuesday he rejected the agreement to re-name the former Yugoslav state North Macedonia. “For me it’s a bad deal, I don’t accept it, and I will try to block it,” he said.
The deal brokered last month will not be brought for ratification to the Greek parliament before the end of the year at the earliest.
Tsipras’s coalition is now backed by just 152 of the 300 seat parliament’s lawmakers, after two MPs from Kammenos’s right-wing Independent Greeks resigned from the party in the last month.
Greece and its neighbor had long been at odds over the latter’s name, as Greece’s northern region is also called Macedonia. Athens said using the name was tantamount to an appropriation of Greek culture and history and had threatened to halt Skopje’s bids to join the European Union and NATO without a resolution.
But the deal to use “North Macedonia” — which must be ratified by both countries — has been badly received on both sides of the border. In Skopje, Macedonian president Gjorge Ivanov is threatening to veto the parliamentary process, calling the name change “criminal”.
“We will not permit (this) agreement, without the approval of the Greek people which is done in two ways — either with elections or a referendum,” Kammenos said on Tuesday.
Kammenos’s party has been in government with Tsipras’s leftist Syriza since 2015. With elections due by the end of 2019, the administration is trailing badly in opinion polls, singed by association with economic reforms.
“Yesterday I said Mr Tsipras was a prime minister with an expiry date. The sad appearance of Mr Kammenos today affirmed that completely,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the biggest opposition party, New Democracy, said in a tweet on Tuesday.
“The only thing left for Mr Tsipras to do is set an election date.”
Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Catherine Evans