Follow-up is a concept rarely appreciated in Greece – that sunny spot in South-East Europe/North-East Mediterranean, populated by a feisty people with strong links with our glorious past.
In this turn of history Greeks are struggling to offer to themselves a credible follow-up to the efforts expended so as to exit the fiscal, financial, economic (and deeply social) crisis of the last ten years or so; meaning not to squander the pain incurred in three successive rounds of austerity-cum-structural-reform and seriously reboot the economy in a way that would create real jobs, bring effective growth, keep the banking system afloat and the suchlike.
Close to the track of this arduous task, a different follow-up has now to be executed. The Greek Parliament has just ratified, at a thin majority and after much political in-fighting and popular outcry, the Prespes Treaty which is meant to give an end to the “name dispute” that has pitched for more than 25 years Greece against its (much smaller) northern neighbour, now to be called “Republic of Northern Macedonia”. The Prespes Treaty has been already ratified by the Skopje Parliament, which has also proceeded to enshrine constitutional reforms that incorporate the Treaty’s provisions.
Steep as this climb was, the follow-up could be even tougher. First, remaining technical obstacles – but in such matters even the slightest technicality can easily bring about serious political trouble! – have to be removed, so as to accertain that the newly-baptised Northern Macedonia be called to join NATO. (Accession to the EU is of even higher importance, but there the process is far longer and tortuous). Such was the essence of the whole negotiation for the West, this is why all and sundry were prompt to acclaim the vote in Athens notwithstanding Greek resentment over the vote. Still, if Northern Macedonia is awarded the much-desired NATO membership and then recants on part of the Prespes Treaty tenuous equilibrium (official name, erga omnes function of such name, language, nationality/citizenship), then resentment in Greece might well turn to outrage. Just around the corner, Russia would be more than happy to reclaim its own expectations of residual domination over the Western Balkans.
Also practical issues, such as the commercial use of local names and trademarks (many products Northern Greek are traded as “Macedonian”), have to find solutions of their own. Greek economic presence, especially outward investment is to be encouraged if economic ties are to enhance relations of the two countries.
Last but by no means least, local minorities with slim numbers but at times vocal presence in Northern Greece should be discouraged to express nationalist views in destabilizing ways.
All of which means that once the Prespes Treaty becomes a reality, much groundwork remains to be done. But presidential elections and possibly early parliamentary elections in Skopje in the spring of 2019, plus a succession of elections in Athens for most of 2019-20 do not allow for either cool heads or careful follow-up to the Prespes Treaty – ratified and acclaimed (in the West) as it is.