There is divine irony in the fact that the marriage of convenience between Alexis Tsipras and Panos Kammenos is collapsing in the presence of the very symbol that helped bring them together. Tsipras not only exchanged warm words with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Thursday, but, less than 24 hours earlier, seemed to threaten Kammenos when, in an interview, he said that his junior coalition partner would undertake a “heavy burden” if he were to bring down the government. Perhaps it was no coincidence that, speaking with Merkel, Tsipras declared “we have a common danger before us, the rise of the populist extreme right.”
It was, of course, SYRIZA which chose to govern with a partner from the populist extreme right, to the chagrin of the radical left movement’s more naive followers in Greece and abroad. The speed with which their union was achieved was testament to the power of the matchmaker – their joint position against previous governments’ abiding by the EU policies set mainly by Merkel’s Germany. Their joint anti-bailout stand united Tsipras and Kammenos, the charms of power kept them together.
But the world changed; one partner evolved, the other stayed the same. Kammenos and his Independent Greeks are at a dead-end: they cannot accept the Prespes agreement (with its naming of Greece’s northern neighbor as “North Macedonia”), but if they bring down the government they would be out of power, they would disappear. Tsipras the tactician has more options. He understands that his political survival depends on cooperating with the whole western apparatus that he insulted with such joyful abandon in the years of what he now describes as his “delusion.” Sooner or later, Kammenos was fated to go from being a governing partner to a third wheel in the relationship.
Merkel and Tsipras have found that cooperation serves mutual interests. Last year’s agreement whereby Greece accepted the return of refugees and migrants took a lot of domestic pressure off the chancellor. Both agree with the principle of solidarity, whereby refugees and migrants would be settled across the whole European Union. The “end of Greece’s bailouts” has been presented as a victory for both governments and for the EU. The Prespes agreement is of great importance to both, albeit for different reasons. (Merkel wants to ensure the Western Balkans remain under the EU’s influence; Tsipras has forced Greece’s main opposition party into a spot – supporting the deal would entail a grave political cost at home, rejecting it risks isolation abroad).
This does not mean that Germany and Greece have not had – and will not have – even closer ties with other governments in power, nor that there will be no more thorns on the path. What it does show is that, coming to the end of his government’s cycle, Tsipras is provoking his partner to support him, while suggesting that he does not need him. The divorce will be ugly.