What a difference being in power makes. When they were in opposition, Greece’s New Democracy and North Macedonia’s VMRO party, both members of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), rejected the hard-fought solution to the two countries’ long-standing name dispute.
Under the so-called Prespa Agreement, sealed in 2018 by former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his counterpart Zoran Zaev, Macedonia was renamed North Macedonia.
On Thursday (11 November), Zaev’s government faces a no-confidence vote and VMRO says it has the majority to form a new government. In an ironic twist, New Democracy, which is now in government in Greece, is calling on its sister party in North Macedonia to respect and implement the deal if it comes to power.
For his part, Hristijan Mickovski, the leader of VMRO-DPMNE, has said he would never use the country’s new name (North Macedonia) although he says he recognises the Prespa Agreement.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said that since the agreement was ratified by the Greek parliament, he could not change it and, therefore, has to respect it.
In the beginning, the New Democracy government also hesitated to use the name ‘North Macedonia’. In May, Mitsotakis tweeted a picture of a meeting he had with Zaev in Athens who he called just “Prime Minister Zoran Zaev” without mentioning his nationality.
Another more extreme example, was a joint statement signed in September 2020 between the US and Greece, during a visit by the then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which sent confusing messages about whether Washington and Athens consider the North Macedonia name change deal historic or not.
The initial US-Greece statement referred to a “historic” Prespa Agreement. The English version of the statement was immediately published on the Greek foreign affairs ministry website but the Greek version was not published at all.
However, a couple of hours later, the word “historic” disappeared from the joint statement posted on both the website of the Greek Foreign Affairs Ministry and the US embassy in Athens.
Neither side provided an explanation for this change.
Meanwhile, the Greek parliament continues to delay the adoption of three memoranda signed between Greece and North Macedonia as part of the Prespa Agreement.
Critics suggest Mitsotakis fears that if he pushes for the ratification, the right-wing faction within his party will react negatively and risk splitting the party.
EURACTIV understands that both New Democracy and VMRO will one way or another respect and implement the deal, even though they oppose it, and will continue to face both ways to appease their supporters.
But history will judge both for playing politics with one of the Balkan region’s most intractable problems for electoral reasons. And history never forgives.
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