Dialogue with Turkey and the opposition’s support

Dialogue with Turkey and the opposition’s support

Alexis Tsipras is almost certainly annoyed at not getting the support he needed from the opposition when he was prime minister and engaging in the difficult negotiations for the name deal with Skopje. He probably believes that New Democracy should have shown boldness and supported the Prespes agreement, albeit with asterisks.

For better or worse, this did not happen, though the leftist leader is partly to blame for not seeking to create a secret channel of communication with ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The conservative party’s negative stance on the name deal created tension in Parliament, but also in society, marked by large public protests.

It is a given, therefore, that SYRIZA still feels that it did not get the support demanded by the national interest, despite the fact that the deal was quietly approved – albeit without much enthusiasm – by numerous officials and voters of Movement for Change and ND who believed it was the only realistic way to go.

Either way, it is important that now ND is in power, it is upholding the Prespes name deal and is actually demanding that the government of North Macedonia do the same.

Greece now faces a much bigger challenge on the diplomatic chessboard, which is dealing with the perpetually thorny, complex and dangerous relationship with Turkey. And in this, the SYRIZA opposition has an important role of its own to play. The prime minister has already briefed all the opposition chiefs on the situation, which clearly calls for national consensus. The government needs the broadest possible support it can get from society, but also from Parliament as a whole.

This is a very important moment for the main opposition as SYRIZA strives to adopt a more moderate tone and enhance its appeal closer to the center. It needs to overcome its anger at ND over the name deal, to give the consensus needed right now. What would facilitate this would be lines of communication between people who know the issues well and are advisers to the former and the present PMs. Even cooperation between the two parties is possible away from the lights of publicity.

If Greece enters a dialogue with Turkey – with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the seemingly key role of mediator – everyone in Greece must rise to the occasion. Political parties should not seek to exploit the situation for their own gains. Relations with Turkey are too important. They transcend personalities, parties and governments. In contrast to the name dispute, they have existential implications. A mistake by one government will make the job of the next one much harder and at the end of the day will do harm to the country, so anyone with a sense of patriotic duty must support the government.

If Athens embarks on critical discussions on territorial waters, the continental shelf and airspace – where some convergence on a mediation agreement has appeared possible from exploratory talks in the past – criticism of the government needs to be exercised in a way that strengthens rather than weakens the national front, which must remain strong and united throughout the next crucial period. All this will take some delicate handling and tough decisions. The last thing the country needs is division on the home front. 

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