Oman Observer

No snap election in Greece over Macedonia name hurdle: Tsipras

Thessaloniki: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Sunday said his government would complete its four-year term despite disagreement with his coalition partner over a disputed name deal with Macedonia. Tsipras said his coalition partner Panos Kammenos, head of the nationalist Independent Greeks party, “will not endanger the country’s recovery and political stability”. “The country needs political stability,” he told a news conference in Thessaloniki. Elections are not scheduled for another year but Kammenos has vowed to do everything in his power to block the deal, including leaving the government.
The preliminary agreement with Macedonia in June, to be confirmed by a referendum by Skopje later this month and a Greek parliamentary vote early in 2019, will see the Balkan state renamed North Macedonia.
Tsipras on Sunday acknowledged that full implementation of the agreement “will not be easy” as it requires a constitutional revision that the Macedonian government currently lacks the necessary parliamentary majority to undertake.
The tiny landlocked country had joined the United Nations in 1993 as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Greece also has a northern province named Macedonia, the heart of Alexander the Great’s ancient kingdom, and many Greeks fear the deal will officially enable Skopje to lay claim to their cultural heritage.
There is also concern that most of the world will simply continue to call the neighbouring country Macedonia.
But Tsipras insisted on Sunday that the deal “fully safeguards the history of ancient Macedonia, which is Greek and is part of our national identity.”
A June opinion poll showed most Greeks oppose the deal. Some 7,000 people demonstrated on Saturday in Thessaloniki in a protest organised by local citizens and church groups.
A small group of protesters threw flares and stones at police, who responded with tear gas into crowds that included children.
Eight people were arrested, two of them minors. Several shops and cars were vandalised by suspected far-right hardliners, including one with Turkish licence plates.
The main opposition New Democracy party also rejects the deal, but Tsipras, who controls 145 seats in the 300-seat parliament, could still get it approved by simple majority with the help of lawmakers from smaller parties or independents who have voiced support.
Tsipras also said on said on Sunday that Greece would not need to cut pensions or raise taxes as planned because it was beating the budget targets agreed with its lenders.
Tsipras, a leftist elected in 2015 but trailing badly in opinion polls, also pledged not to row back on those targets now that Greece has emerged from almost a decade of financial bailouts and enforced austerity.
Tsipras used a trade fair in Thessaloniki to announce sweeping tax breaks in the next few years.
“These relief measures are the least we can do for a public that has borne huge burdens,” Tsipras told a news conference.
Tsipras is walking a tightrope as he wants to appease a public fed up with cutbacks while reassuring markets sensitive to any sign of easing up on fiscal consolidation.
Greece emerged from an economic adjustment programme with the European Union in August, but must still keep a primary budget surplus of 3.5 per cent of GDP until 2022.
To reassure its lenders, Athens has legislated further pension cuts to take effect in 2019, and a reduction in the taxable earnings threshold from 2020.
But Tsipras said both would be unnecessary since fiscal targets would be exceeded.
— AFP/Reuters