A deepening crisis in the coalition over the Prespes name deal on Wednesday prompted the resignation of Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias following a vehement clash with Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, the junior coalition partner whose support Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appears determined to preserve at this stage.
The unexpected development came despite efforts by Tsipras to mend the widening rift in his coalition between Kotzias, who signed the name deal in June, and Kammenos, who is fiercely opposed to it and last week proposed an alternative during an official visit to Washington.
According to sources, Kammenos’s proposal during his US visit was the last straw for Kotzias, who felt that Independent Greeks (ANEL) leader Kammenos had already been wading too far into foreign policy issues.
In comments to reporters, Tsipras said he was assuming the post of foreign minister in a bid to underline his commitment to the Prespes name deal, and warned that he would not tolerate any “duplicity” or “personal agendas” from members of his cabinet.
Tsipras’s assumption of Kotzias’s post was also seen as a warning to Kammenos not to question foreign policy decisions as this will bring him into direct conflict with the premier. It is also likely that Tsipras wants to play down the influence of Kammenos amid widespread criticism that he is increasingly beholden to him.
New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis described Tsipras as being a “‘hostage” in his alliance with ANEL, while the leader of the centrist Movement for Change, Fofi Gennimata, said the two coalition partners are “walking hand in hand toward the edge of a cliff.”
Government sources played down the resignation, saying it would change nothing in the administration’s plans. But a key cabinet member’s departure under such acrimonious circumstances – Kammenos reportedly accused Kotzias of mismanaging ministry funds and being a pawn of Hungarian-American billionaire financier George Soros – has fueled concern.
Kotzias leads the political movement Pratto, which includes another two MPs of leftist SYRIZA, Nikos Toskas and Georgia Gennia. Although resignations were not expected, there are concerns as the government has a fragile majority of three seats in the 300-seat House.