Published: Mon, January 14, 2019
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Independent Greeks Party Leaves Ruling Coalition - Greek Defence Minister

Independent Greeks Party Leaves Ruling Coalition - Greek Defence Minister

In the euro area's latest sign of political instability, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos withdrew his party from the governing coalition on Sunday over a name dispute with neighboring Macedonia. Speaking after the meeting, he said that "The Macedonia name issue. doesn't allow me not to sacrifice the minister's chair".

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Sunday he will ask for a vote of confidence in Parliament this week after the country's defence minister, who leads the coalition government's junior party, resigned over the Macedonia name deal.

If Kammenos refuses to back down, Tsipras hopes to rely on lawmakers from the small pro-EU To Potami party to get the agreement approved. He thanked Kammenos for his government partnership and announced that that Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will take on the role of defense minister.

Kammenos said that any deal including "Macedonia" in the name of the Balkan state to Greece's north was unacceptable as the name was irrevocably tied to Greek civilization and culture. Polls indicate it will probably fail to obtain the minimum three percent of the popular vote needed to meet the Greek parliamentary election threshold.

Parliamentary speaker Talad Xhaferi said 81 MPs voted in favour of the name change in the 120-seat chamber, securing the required two-thirds majority. However, the Greek Parliament still needs to vote - and this will likely prove no easy task given how deeply divisive the issue remains there, a report in The New York Times observed.

Zaev said on January 12 that the lawmakers had "made history", adding: "I know how hard that was".

The disagreement, which came to the fore after the smaller country gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, has seen Athens block multiple attempts by Skopje to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union.

Zaev, who came to power in May 2017, is now looking to his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras to uphold his end of the deal, which the pair brokered a year ago. Macedonia said it would change its name, and Greece said it would drop its objection to the neighboring country's entry into the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation if the changes are formally adopted.

Zaev said he was "convinced that Greek lawmakers will recognise the historical significance of the agreement".

The naming row between the two countries began 27 years ago when FYROM declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but has roots going back to antiquity. Neither one has stated their position on the confidence motion but Kokkalis has said he will vote against the Macedonian name change. Alexander the Great still represents a source of pride for many Greeks today, while his legacy has also been taken up as a central part of Macedonia's national identity. Their efforts brought the pair a nomination for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

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