Greek MPs brace for vote on Prespes deal amid tense debate

Greek MPs brace for vote on Prespes deal amid tense debate

Greek MPs completed a second day of fierce debate on the Macedonia deal on Thursday night ahead of a vote that was postponed until Friday afternoon to allow dozens of lawmakers to address the House.

“We are one step before a historic event,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told Parliament, adding that the long-standing dispute over the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had deprived Greece of precious diplomatic capital. He said inertia and procrastination had resulted in more than 130 countries recognizing FYROM as simply “Macedonia,” and accused conservative New Democracy of “political hypocrisy” for shifting stance on the issue. The premier also condemned threats against and intimidation of MPs supporting the Prespes deal.

Describing the deal as a “national defeat,” ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis claimed that its ratification would not secure FYROM’s ambitions to join the European Union. “Greece can, at any moment, veto the accession of Skopje to the European family,” he said. “If Greeks entrust me as prime minister, I will refuse to interpret the agreement in that manner.” As for the Prespes deal, he said it was a “minefield” that once ratified would be impossible to scrap and difficult to modify, calling on MPs to face up to their “historic” responsibility and vote down the deal.

Independent Greeks (ANEL) leader Panos Kammenos, who quit the coalition over the Prespes deal, also spoke in the House, accusing Tsipras of seeking to break up his party. A handful of former ANEL and opposition MPs are expected to help Tsipras approve the deal Friday.

Kammenos called the opposition MPs backing the deal “the six Ephialtes,” after Ephialtes who betrayed the Greeks to the invading Persians.

Stavros Theodorakis, leader of centrist Potami, who also saw his party torn apart by dissent over the deal, said Greece should support the pact or risk being alienated from its Western partners. “If we turn down the agreement, the country will be isolated internationally,” he said.

Former foreign minister Nikos Kotzias, the architect of the deal who quit last October following a clash with Kammenos, slammed ND for opposing the agreement. “The Prespes deal works for you,” Kotzias said. “It solves a problem which you could not solve,” he said. Kotzias’s criticism was rebutted by former conservative foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis, who said former premier Costas Karamanlis had tried to reach a settlement but that it was blocked by the government in FYROM, which wanted a deal recognizing a Macedonian language and nationality.

Former conservative prime minister Antonis Samaras, for his part, said the deal amounted to legitimizing irredentist aims by FYROM. “The Prespes agreement violates the national [policy] line,“ he said. “It doesn’t solve problems, it creates many more.” 

Karamanlis also weighed in earlier Thursday with a written statement, accusing the government of rushing to finalize the deal “in undue haste” and overlooking citizens’ sensitivities. “The government should have respected the sensitivity and listened to the legitimate concerns of the large majority of citizens,” he wrote. “It is not acceptable for national issues of such importance to lead to tensions that create a divisive climate.”

Earlier in the day, police intensified security in central Athens to deal with three demonstrations against the deal. Some 3,000 people joined the main rally outside Parliament, a fraction of the tens of thousands who turned out for a protest last Sunday. Another demonstration by the Communist Party (KKE), drawing around 4,500 people, and a third, smaller rally by far-leftists near the US Embassy, ended without incident at 8 p.m. but police remained on standby in the area to avert possible violence. Late on Thursday night police pushed back a group of protesters who lobbed flares at officers while trying to approach Parliament.

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