Saturday

4th Apr 2020

Greek government rocked by nationalist row

  • Mouzalas (l). His "verbal faux pas" could cost him his position in the middle of the refugee crisis (Photo: Council of the EU)

The Greek government is being rocked by calls from the defence minister for the resignation of the migration minister over his use of the name “Macedonia” to refer to Greece’s neighbouring country.

The dispute could lead to the departure of the person in charge of Greece's most acute problem - the presence of an estimated 47,000 migrants and refugees, a problem that the EU has just earmarked €700 million to help with.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Yannis Mouzalas mentioned the name in a TV interview instead of the usual Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Referring to their neighbour as Macedonia is taboo in Greece, where all governments since the former Yugoslav republic's independence in 1991 have vetoed the term.

The name Macedonia “refers to the kingdom and culture of the ancient Macedonians, who belong to the Hellenic nation and are unquestionably part of Greek historical and cultural heritage,” Greece says.

FYROM has been a compromise tag since 1992, pending a settlement of the name dispute. The initials are often used by international organisations, but media outlets generally call the country Macedonia.

Relations between Greece and Macedonia have become tense in recent weeks after Macedonia closed their common border, leaving about 12,000 migrants, mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, stranded near the village of Idomeni in Greece in difficult conditions.

Mouzalas has apologised, but his government colleague, the defence minister and the leader of the nationalist Independent Greeks party (Anel) Panos Kammenos, called for him to quit “to protect the government”.

“Independent Greeks support the government, not Mouzalas,” Kammenos said on Wednesday outside the prime minister’s office where a meeting was being held over the row.

Kammenos’ right-wing party has been the main ally of leftist prime minister Alexis Tsipras since he was first elected in January 2015. Anel now holds nine seats in the Greek parliament, where the government has only a three-seat majority.

Smooth outcome

Faced with the possible meltdown of his coalition on the eve on an EU summit on the refugee crisis, Tsipras has tried to play down the disagreement.

The government’s spokeswoman said there was no government crisis, only a “verbal faux pas”. She said that a decision how to proceed would be taken after Thursday and Friday’s EU summit in Brussels.

It is likely that Mouzalas, who is a doctor with no party affiliation, will have to go. Neither the prime minister nor his main ally have an interest in compromising their accord.

The first one to call for Mouzalas’ resignation after his TV gaffe was Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the leader of the centre-right opposition party New Democracy.

Image game

After that, the nationalist Kammenos “could not allow Mitsotakis to seem more patriotic”, Greek journalist Nick Malkoutsis told EUobserver.

“I don't think he would have done it otherwise. Now that he's done so, it's very difficult for him to accept anything less than resignation,” said Malkoutsis, who is the editor of the political analysis website MacroPolis.

Mouzalas’ resignation after the EU summit, once an agreement has been found between EU leaders and with Turkey to help Greece to protect its borders and to reduce the number of migrants on its territory, would be the smoothest outcome, Malkoutsis said.

If he doesn't, or if Tsipras shows some backbone, “we would have a problem because Kammenos doesn't seem in a mood to back down”, he said.

“I don't think Tsipras wants to risk things at the moment.”

Three people die after EU border clampdown

Germany says situation in Greece is unsustainable as first three people perish trying to get round new EU restrictions on the Western Balkan migratory route.

New push to kick Orban's party out of centre-right EPP

Member parties from the largest European political family have called for the expulsion of their Hungarian partner - again. This time, two prime ministers joined, but so far the heavyweights have again stayed away.

Already doubts over Belgium's new 'anti-corona government'

Belgium's King Philippe has given interim prime minister Sophie Wilmès the task of forming a government, after seven opposition parties agreed to support it. The agreement came after a political drama - and there are doubts if it will hold.

Five new post-Brexit MEPs to watch

Five MEPs to keep an eye on from the 27 new members who are joining the European Parliament this week, following the UK's departure from the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. EU's 'Irini' Libya mission: Europe's Operation Cassandra
  2. Slovak army deployed to quarantine Roma settlements
  3. Lockdown: EU officials lobbied via WhatsApp and Skype
  4. EU: Athens can handle Covid outbreak at Greek camp
  5. New push to kick Orban's party out of centre-right EPP
  6. EU launches €100bn worker support scheme
  7. Court: Three countries broke EU law on migrant relocation
  8. Journalism hit hard by corona crisis

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us