Two major political events ran in Greece this last weekend. Prime Minister Tsipras addressed supporters in Thessaloniki over the ever-contentious issue of the (embattled) Prespes Treaty, which was supposed to end the decades-long “name issue” with the country’s northern neighbour. Protest rallies against the PM’s presence, that were expected with a measure of concern by the authorities since public opinion in Northern Greece is clearly hostile to the Treaty, proved underwhelming: security measures may have been dissuasive enough, or else the disquiet voiced by the authorities was exaggerated. [The only really sad occurrence of the day was the defiling of the Shoah memorial in Thessaloniki by Nazi thugs].
Tsipras stood by the Prespes Treaty in a vigorous way; he termed it the key to an ”overall great effort in foreign policy to solve a major issue for Greece and for the whole of the Balkans”, but warned that only when all of the Treaty’s conditions would be met could the ratification by the Greek Parliament occur – paving the way for the accession of FYRoM to NATO and (further on) to the EU.
Over the same weekend, Opposition chief Kyriakos Mitsotakis presided over a party Congress of his own, where the electoral campaign in view of the 2019 parliamentary elections (but also the May European elections, as well as local/regional elections) was kick-started. (A minor point to be noted – albeit one that raised some rancour – is that the Opposition’s Congress had been planned well in advance, so, when the Prime Minister’s public address was announced over the same weekend, there were grumbles of unfair play). While the main focus of Mitsotakis – and, indeed, of the overall Nea Dimocratia Congress – was the economy and social policies, the chance was not missed for a broad-side volley against the Government over the Prespes Treaty: it was denounced as part of a bargain with the EU, so as to get off the negotiating table the critical issue of pension cuts (which, in a country in pre-election mode could well prove politically costly).
This allegation of a trade-off over a sensitive national issue caused renewed concern. The head of the European People’s Party at the European Parliament, Manfred Weber – whose party are ardent supporters of the Prespes Treaty and FYRoM’s accession to Euro-Atlantic fora – who attended the N.D. Congress remained carefully silent over the matter.
Far, far away from both Thessaloniki and Athens the start of the “strategic dialogue” of the US and Greece – in Washington, with the American delegation headed by Assistant Secretary General Wes Mitchell and the Greek one by Deputy Minister George Katrougalos – gave Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo the chance to laud that very Prespes Treaty. Pompeo said since it will help stop the “malicious” involvement of Russia in SouthEastern Europe.
So, the kick-start of an acrimonious electoral campaign in Greece may well coincide with more important shifts in alliances and political affinities.