Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said he will call a confidence vote, as his ruling coalition government separates. The split, resulting from the resignation of Defence Minister Pannos Kamenos, has arisen due to a dispute over the name change of the country of Macedonia.
Mr. Kamenos and six other ministers of his ‘Independent Greeks’ party will reportedly leave the coalition over the Greek-Macedonian agreement over the name change of the Balkan nation from ‘The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia‘ to the ‘Republic of North Macedonia.’ The Leader of the ‘Independent Greeks’ has stated that any agreement with the name ‘Macedonia’ was unacceptable as the name is closely tied to Greek culture.
The name change was agreed in June 2018, but the constitutional amendment was only ratified by Macedonia’s parliament on January 11, 2019. The vote, which passed 81-39, needs to be passed by the Greek parliament before it will take effect, but this looks tenuous as Mr. Tsipras now lacks a parliamentary majority.
The name change is aimed at ending a 27-year dispute with Greece, which has its own region called Macedonia and has feared territorial claims by their northern neighbour. The tension over the names has been ongoing since the break up of Yugoslavia, with the Greek objections leading the UN to refer to the nation as ‘The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.’
Greece’s concerns have also led to them vetoing Macedonia’s applications to join NATO and the European Union in the past, with the proposed name change hoping to open up entry into these unions for the country of just over 2 million people. A referendum on the name change was held on September 30, 2018 with over 90% of those voting supporting the name change. However, with an official voter turnout of 36% the 50% threshold required to make the referendum valid was not met. This followed campaigning by some opponents of the name change that encouraged people to either not vote, or vote ‘no.’
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said to his parliament prior to the vote on the 11th of January that “We should raise our heads high, move past all the issues that divided our society.” Following the vote, the Macedonian government released a statement, saying “A new historical chapter in our statehood has been written this evening… It makes absolutely plausible two of our biggest state interests – membership in NATO and EU.”
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said his government aims to complete its term to October 2019 and “upgrade the country’s role on the international stage,” and will seek the confidence vote to allow this.