Greek defence minister quits over Macedonia name deal

Exit of Panos Kammenos, who called the accord a sellout, imperils coalition government

Panos Kammenos never concealed his hostility to the deal which renames Greece’s Balkan neighbour Republic of North Macedonia.
 Panos Kammenos never concealed his hostility to the deal which renames Greece’s Balkan neighbour Republic of North Macedonia. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters

Greece’s rightwing defence minister quit on Sunday in protest at a deal ending a long-running dispute with Macedonia over its name

The resignation of Panos Kammenos clouded the future of the coalition government months before national elections.

Kammenos, whose Independent Greeks party props up the government of Alexis Tsipras, has long opposed the accord with neighbouring Macedonia signed by their governments last year.

“The Macedonia name issue … doesn’t allow me not to sacrifice the minister’s chair,” Kammenos said after meeting the prime minister on Sunday morning. He said he would also pull six other ministers from his party out of the government.

Responding to the resignation, Tsipras said that he will ask for a vote of confidence in Parliament in the coming week. He added he had a “frank discussion” with Kammenos, whom he thanked for his government partnership.

Tsipras also announced that Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will replace Kammenos as defense minister.

Parliamentary elections are due in Greece by October. Tsipras’s coalition has 153 seats in the 300-strong parliament, 145 of them from his leftist Syriza party.

Kammenos, who forged a coalition pact with Tsipras in 2015, never concealed his hostility to the deal with Skopje, which renames the tiny Balkan country Republic of North Macedonia.

Greece has a province called Macedonia and long demanded Skopje change its country’s name to remove what Athens considered to be an implied claim to Greek sovereign territory.

Greece frustrated Macedonia’s aspirations to EU and Nato ties over the name dispute.

Kammenos has called the accord a national sellout and repeatedly threatened to leave if it came before the Greek parliament for ratification, expected later this month.

Kammenos said any deal including “Macedonia” in the name of the Balkan state to Greece’s north was unacceptable as the name was irrevocably tied to Greek civilisation and culture.

The main opposition, the conservative New Democracy party, which is leading pre-election polls, has said it will block the deal. The government hopes, however, that the pact will still pass with the support of centre-left and independent lawmakers.

Macedonia’s parliament ratified the deal by passing an amendment to the constitution on Friday.

The two countries struck the deal on the new name in June last year, but Macedonia will start using it only after the parliament in Athens also approves the change.

A dispute over the matter triggered the resignation of Greece’s foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, in October. Kotzias was an architect of the accord but left because he felt insufficiently supported by Tsipras in clashes with Kammenos.

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