Monday

20th May 2019

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 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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.

Timmermans calls for left-wing coalition at debate

The centre-right's Manfred Weber got most of the heat at the EU Commission presidential candidates' final debate before the European elections, while Frans Timmermans reached out to a possible coalition partners - piling more pressure on Weber's EPP.

Analysis

As candidates debate, more names surface for EU top jobs

Candidates from EU political families clash at the closely-watched debate in the European Parliament - but the elections themselves, plus lukewarm support from heads of government, could upend previous calculations.

News in Brief

  1. EU flies rainbow flag on anti-homophobia day
  2. EU to freeze money and visas of foreign cyber-attackers
  3. EU reassures US on arms sales
  4. Use euros over dollars in energy contracts, France says
  5. UK cross-party Brexit talks collapse
  6. Climate activists occupy German-Russian gas pipeline
  7. Farage got €515,000 of private perks
  8. French EU commissioner urges Italy not to overspend

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us