ATHENS – With elections coming, Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’ first focus for 2019, perhaps even more than whether there will be a recovery, is whether his deal to rename the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will pass and pay off for him.
Trailing far behind in polls to the party he unseated in 2015, the major rival New Democracy, the anti-nationalist Tsipras first has to wait for FYROM’s Parliament to give its final approval for the agreement that would change the country’s name to North Macedonia and open the door to NATO and European Union accession talks.
That gives away the name of the ancient abutting Greek province of Macedonia and would let citizens of North Macedonia be called Macedonians and have a Macedonian language and culture, infuriating Tsipras’s junior coalition partner, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, head of the tiny, pro-austerity, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL).
Kammenos said his seven lawmakers, who give the government a scant three-vote majority in Parliament, will vote against the deal and that if it comes to the Parliament he will leave the coalition, although he keeps changing his mind.
With as many as 65 percent of Greeks also opposed, Tsipras faces a challenge not just in getting the name deal through – he’s confident he has enough votes from rival parties to clinch it – but hope there’s no backlash.
Elections are required to be held by October but speculation has built they could be called early, perhaps in May to coincide with European Parliament polls – or even March – and as the government still hasn’t been able to return to the markets, more than four months after three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($374.56 billion)
Analysts told Kathimerini that the timing of possible snap polls will depend in large part on the FYROM name deal vote and the government wanting to ride the goodwill of another season of holiday handouts and getting the approval of creditors to halt more pension cuts that were due to kick in on Jan. 1.
Hoping to reverse his free fall in polls, Tsipras also is trying to move to reverse austerity measures, four years after he first said he would before reneging on virtually every pledge he made to get into power but said he won’t call early elections.
He wants to raise the minimum wage, restore workers rights, halt new taxes on previously exempt low-and-moderate income individuals and families and get Greece back into the markets and lure foreign investors scared off by political instability and an avalanche of tax hikes he imposed that put the corporate rate at 29 percent.
He’ll also have push through another deal, this one to separate Church and State, which would take 9,000 priests off public payrolls and paid by the Church – with state subsidies – which he said would let him hire 10,000 more civil servants, a move New Democracy said is just transparent vote-buying.
Tsipras has also reportedly been given the option by FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to ratify the deal in Parliament by March at the latest and to defer a vote on a protocol that will lift Greece’s objections to FYROM’s bid to join NATO after national elections.
But the paper said Tsipras more likely will bring the agreement to Parliament relatively soon – in late January or early February and Greece will immediately lift its veto keeping what would be North Macedonia out of NATO even if that country hadn’t fully renounced claims on Greek lands, including the real Macedonia.
Tsipras also said to be confident that Kammenos, whose party earlier voted against a no-confidence measure against the Premier brought by New Democracy, would do it again, reneging on a promise to vote against the Premier if it happened again.
The state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency quoted the heads of major Greek chambers of commerce as saying that the year 2019 can be a turning point for Greece after more than 8 ½ years of an economic and austerity crisis.
Constantinos Michalos, President of both the Union of Hellenic Chambers and the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said attracting private capital and investments from abroad are the key to the recovery of Greece’s economy.
“We must now focus on attracting private capital and investments from abroad, support the outward orientation and competitiveness of Greek businesses, enhance the diversification and technological content of our products and services with a view to increasing the value of Greek exports,” he said.
The head of the Piraeus Chamber of Commerce and Industry Vassilis Korkidis said 2019 would be a demanding year for all and called for fewer taxes and more jobs. “More industriousness is needed, because nothing can proceed without hard work, but only on condition that there are jobs,” he said.