ATHENS – After once hailing him as the greatest foreign minister Greece ever had, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos lashed out again at Nikos Kotzias in a battle the two are having over the government’s deal with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to rename that country, giving away the name of the ancient Greek province of Macedonia.
Kammenos is leader of the tiny, pro-austerity, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the coalition led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose refusal to back Kotzias – a long-time friend – over Kammenos, whose party’s votes are needed to give the government a three-vote majority in Parliament, led to the foreign minister quitting.
Since then, Kammenos – who is opposed to the deal that Tsipras and Kotzias made – has been in a growing feud with Kotzias, who drew a caustic reaction when he mocked the defense minister for flip-flopping over whether he would vote against the agreement and take ANEL out of the coalition.
“Mr. Kammenos stopped saying he will bring down the government when he understood that many of his own will not follow him,” Kotzias told news web site News247, in reference to at least one ANEL lawmaker already defying Kammenos to say he will vote for the deal.
Kotzias said Kammenos wants to dismember FYROM and has continued to defend the agreement he made although two-thirds of Greeks are also opposed and there were massive protest rallies in Athens and Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city and in Macedonia, which abuts FYROM – which claims Thessaloniki as well as the real Macedonia.
Kammenos’ response was to call for an emergency meeting of his 7-member parliamentary group and fire back a tweet that, “We are not blackmailed. We are not threatened. We are not bought off,” in a snipe back at Kotzias.
“I am at war ever since I followed my way,” he said, referring to his bolting the major opposition New Democracy in protest at austerity measures he then accepted and backed to join SYRIZA and get into power himself.
“At war against interests, even Mafia ones, I will neither die of a stray bullet nor kneel to be executed by the fellow travellers of wrecker Kotzias. They chose this…” added Kammenos.
Tsipras’s left-wing SYRIZA party has 145 seats in the 300-member parliament, where the seven ANEL lawmakers give the government a slight majority.
With ANEL polling at about 1 percent in surveys, far below the 3 percent threshold needed to get back into Parliament in elections this year, some of its lawmakers were said to be considering jumping ship, even joining their alleged rival SYRIZA.
Government speaker Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told the ANA-MPA news agency that “it is a given there is a majority for the [name] deal,” and Tsipras has said he has enough votes from rival parties to get the deal done without Kammenos and ANEL with speculation growing there will be break.
Centrist party To Potami, which is generally favorable to the deal, said that if Kammenos decides to leave the government, an election should be called immediately with stories floating snap elections could be held in May to coincide with those for municipalities and the European Parliament.