Greece’s name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is a loose end that can and should be tied up. Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias is looking to resolve all major pending issues with neighboring FYROM and Albania so that Greece can deal with the biggest front, which is Turkey.
The name dispute is a lesson in how not to handle foreign policy, as Greece’s political leaders got caught up in a frenzy that they themselves had cultivated. They squandered valuable strategic capital and allowed several important opportunities to slip through their fingers that would have allowed us to have our smaller northern neighbor as a satellite.
Now that there is a moderate and pro-European government in Skopje for the first time, conditions appear ripe for a dignified solution. Berlin and Brussels are keen for a breakthrough because they need Europe to score a success. The broad strokes of an agreement will obviously follow similar lines to those proposed by former prime minister Costas Karamanlis and his foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008.
While an agreement seems within reach, there are still a few hurdles to overcome, chiefly the fact that while the prime minister is looking for a solution, the defense minister has openly expressed opposition to a compromise that would spell his political demise.
New Democracy is in a difficult position and it is clear that the government would like to use the name dispute to stir discord in the opposition’s ranks. The conservative leader obviously agrees with an honest, realistic solution but he cannot allow the issue to cause a rift in his party as it did when his father was in charge. ND has a group of lawmakers who will certainly not vote for a compromise solution.
In the meantime, there are rumors of a new party being formed in northern Greece to the right of New Democracy and the FYROM dispute may serve as the perfect springboard for it.
The road to a solution remains long and many experts believe that Athens is underestimating how hard a compromise will prove to the government in Skopje.
National issues must always be taken very seriously and have ended either in tragedy or lost opportunities whenever they have been linked to developments on the domestic political scene. On this particular matter, it is hard to know whether the government genuinely wants a solution or is looking to drive a wedge in the opposition – which would also lead to the further fragmentation of the political system, allowing smaller and more extreme parties to have a greater role in decision making if a simple representational electoral system is introduced.