The ball is in Athens’s court

The ball is in Athens’s court

Zoran Zaev, the prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), eventually managed to push the name change deal through his country’s Parliament, also thanks to help from his friends – though we cannot be sure how much help and from who.

He succeeded in mustering the necessary two-thirds majority (80 MPs) to pass laws on constitutional changes in line with the Prespes agreement signed with Greece in June. He will obviously accelerate procedures to meet the prerequisites on FYROM’s side, so as to avoid unexpected negative developments that could be hard to control.

It’s no coincidence that authorities said on Monday that additional security was being provided to deputies who fear for their safety or receive threats after voting to support the deal.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras welcomed the outcome in Skopje. Nikos Kotzias, until recently foreign minister, was ecstatic about the result as if he had been vindicated by history. Meanwhile, coalition partner Panos Kammenos appeared to have lost his voice as he had repeatedly and publicly predicted that the Prespes deal would not be passed in Skopje.

Now that it has been, the defense minister is trying to save face in all sorts of ways. At the same time, he has been repeating that he will leave the government when Tsipras, who is now also foreign minister, brings the accord to the Greek Parliament.

So the questions now are: when Tsipras will put the deal to a vote; whether MPs will make up for Kammenos’s opposition to the agreement if the Independent Greeks leader does follow through on his threat – and which MPs; and what the impact of the whole affair will be on domestic politics.

As Zaev steps up the process, FYROM should be expected to have wrapped up its obligations by late January or early February. Then the ball will be in Athens’s court. The Greek side can expect to receive pressure from the same friends so the issue is resolved as soon as possible.

The time frame is more or less the same in Athens, as the SYRIZA-led coalition plans to bring the deal to Parliament around March before Tsipras and Kammenos can move on with their consensual divorce. However, Western pressure to have the deal ratified in February could make things extra complicated for a SYRIZA minority government which will need to survive for three months until elections in May.

A censure motion against the government – a move already being considered by the conservative opposition – just before or after the ratification of the Prespes deal could be key. New Democracy has not yet revealed its cards, but if it decides to file a censure motion before the ratification of the deal – in order to prevent it – the move could backfire.

If it files a censure motion after the vote, the gains could be greater. In any case, New Democracy would be better off settling the issue before coming to power.

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