German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s two-day visit to Athens is taking place in a completely different political environment than the last one in April 2014. Then, Alexis Tsipras had described the visit as a stunt aimed at “showing support for her representative Mr [Antonis] Samaras.”
Things have changed. Tsipras and his party SYRIZA no longer claim they want to “democratize” Europe, as they once did. Maybe it's because they realized it is already democratic. The countries of Europe – along with the US, Canada, Australia and, unfortunately, very few other countries in the world – were democracies long before SYRIZA arrived in politics. They may have weaknesses, injustices and inequalities, but they still remain the most free societies.
Slogans such as “Go back Mrs Merkel” and numerous other insults targeting the chancellor – as well as domestic political opponents for cooperating with her – are now in the past. Cooperation between Athens and Berlin, as well as with Brussels, is on a good footing today. Still, the German chancellor will call on Tsipras not to diverge from the reform effort.
However, this visit will not only focus on the economy. It will also address the Prespes name deal. Merkel will reiterate Germany’s positive stance towards the agreement signed between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and on this matter, the prime minister will get support from the chancellor. More interesting is how Merkel will deal with the leader of Greece’s main opposition, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The intentions and aims of our European partners, as well as those of the Americans, are well known. But it would be a mistake to put pressure on the leader of New Democracy.
The chancellor knows, from her briefings from the German Embassy in Athens, that the FYROM name dispute was a political challenge not for Tsipras – whose supporters and voters have traditionally been in favor of a solution that would include some compromises – but for Mitsotakis. Had the ND leader supported the deal, he would have risked the breakup of his party – a loyal member of the European People’s Party group and a pillar of political stability in the country.
And at today’s political juncture, neither Greece, nor the Balkans, would benefit from the creation of a new political movement in Greece that could easily fall prey to influences from other powers. Additionally, as a party that respects the continuation of the state, New Democracy will, if it comes to power, go along with the implementation of the deal. Hence, the normalization of bilateral relations between Greece and FYROM will move ahead, and the latter will join the North Atlantic alliance.
In this light, Merkel has no reason to put Mitsotakis on the spot. Obviously she will express her support for the agreement, but her strategic goals would best be served by adding that she is not putting pressure on anyone and that she respects those Greeks who have a different opinion on this sensitive issue.