May 23. 2024. 8:11

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Former PMs Tsipras, Zaev step in to save North Macedonia’s name-change deal


The former prime ministers of Greece and North Macedonia, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, have intervened in the latest spat over the “Prespa Agreement”, saying it’s crucial for the Balkan region’s stability.

North Macedonia’s new President, Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, who comes from the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, refused to use the country’s official name during her inauguration on 12 May.

Siljanovska called the country “Macedonia” instead of North Macedonia, the official constitutional name after the 2018 name-change deal with Greece, otherwise known as the Prespa Agreement.

The incident triggered reactions across Europe as well as the US.

Leftist Tsipras and socialist Zaev signed the deal in 2018 amid intense opposition from conservative parties in their countries.

The deal also came at a huge political cost, especially for Tsipras, who was then heavily defeated in the national elections by conservative centre-right New Democracy.

In Athens, the ruling party fiercely opposed the deal, but after they took power, they accepted it.

In Skopje, though, nationalist VMRO-DPMNE seems willing to re-open the case, and the two conservative parties are bickering over the proper implementation of the agreement.

Upcoming initiatives

Tsipras and Zaev had a phone call on Monday in which they stressed the importance of the Prespa Agreement as well as the cooperation of the two countries both for the European perspective of North Macedonia and for the peace and stability of the Western Balkans, in a period of great tensions in the region.

According to a press release, the two men also underlined how “hypocritical and dangerous is the nationalist populism that developed on both sides”.

Tsipras and Zaev also decided to take specific joint initiatives on the matter, which they consider important for the Balkans’ stability.

Meanwhile, Albania’s socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama also intervened, saying, “Old habits die hard, and old Balkan habits even harder.”

In exclusive comments to Euractiv, Rama said, “Albania is just the exception. We will continue to fight for more Europe and less Balkan in our neighbourhood’s life. This means contemplating the common past with the eyes of the future and not blurring the common future with the eyes of the past.”

Greek opposition pressures government

In Greece, the main opposition Syriza party is trying to pressure the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the matter.

Particularly, Syriza is planning to submit a proposal to vote in parliament on the three pending protocols of cooperation that are part of the Prespa Agreement, which the ruling party has avoided due to opposition by some hardliners in its ranks.

“Mr Mitsotakis is trying to make the citizens, as well as the international community, forget that his party was the best sponsor of the extreme right during the period of negotiations and the signing of the Prespa Agreement”, Syriza said in a statement.

For its part, the government says it will not rush to ratify the three memoranda and claims that its decision to delay the ratification was correct in light of VMRO-DPMN backtracking from the Prespa Agreement.

New Democracy lawmaker Makis Voridis explained that if the context of North Macedonia is questioned, “tomorrow morning, you have a country that has no name because all the other countries have recognised it with the name it has. They shoot themselves in the foot with what they do.”

(Sarantis Michalopoulos | Euractiv.com)

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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