ATHENS – Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who threatened to scuttle a deal the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA he serves to change the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), has reportedly agreed with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to put off any vote.
A referendum will be held on Sept. 30 in FYROM where voters will be asked whether they approve of the agreement that would see their country be renamed North Macedonia and be able to get into NATO and open European Union accession talks.
That has been barred for 27 years after FYROM governments, who have been allowed since 1991 to use the name of the ancient abutting Greek province of Macedonia, began claiming Greek lands and territories, including the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.
If approved in FYROM, Greek lawmakers would have to vote on ratification. Tsipras, with polls showing 62 percent of Greeks opposed, has barred a referendum.
Kammenos, leader of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who have about 1 percent of the vote, repeatedly said he would have his seven lawmakers vote against it and that he would yank his party from the coalition if it comes to a vote.
That would take him out of power and force Tsipras to find votes from rival parties for the deal and another partner to replace ANEL, which Kammenos apparently does not want, having agree with the Premier to talk about the issue in March of 2019, media reports said.
The business newspaper Naftermporiki said another scenario would see Kammenos allowing six of his lawmakers to vote for the deal, so that it would have 151 votes, a majority of one in the Parliament and would pass, but that he could say he was still opposed while actually supporting it, keeping his position.
Tsipras has fallen behind the major rival New Democracy Conservatives by about 10 points in recent surveys while ANEL has essentially no chance of returning to Parliament in the next elections, which must be held by October, 2019.
The change of heart – he does it frequently – came days after he said unequivocally that he would oppose the deal and bring down the government if it came to a vote.
“The agreement will not be ratified. We the government partners will do everything in our power so that it is not ratified. We have clearly said that we will not vote (for the deal,). I have made this commitment publicly some time ago,” Kammenos told Antenna TV.
If it comes to a vote, he said that,“Others will then have to step in as partners to the government,” with Tsipras wooing the Movement for Change, a new center-left coalition led by the former PASOK Socialists who went defunct after backing austerity.
Tsipras earlier had said he doubted Kammenos would try to stop the deal and the Defense Minister accused FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev “saying things that are not in the agreement.”