I wrote here about the controversy over what to call the Balkan nation just north of Greece. The dispute has raged for decades — the northern neighbor calling itself “Macedonia” and Greece objecting to the use of that name, which has strong associations with Alexander the Great and his father, Phillip of Macedonia.
Finally, a compromise was reached whereby the northern neighbor would be “North Macedonia.” It would make concessions such as no longer using Alexander the Great’s name for its airport. Greece, in turn, would drop its objection to North Macedonia joining the EU and NATO.
The deal appears to be popular in North Macedonia. Voters supported it overwhelmingly in a referendum, albeit one with low turnout, and parliament approved it by the required two-thirds majority.
Greece is another matter. Reportedly, public opinion polls show that nearly 70 percent of the population opposes the compromise.
Nonetheless, the Greek parliament narrowly approved the deal this week. The vote was 153 to 146.
In my view, the deal is a sensible solution to a dispute that has gone on for too long. But then, I’m not Greek.
This is a clear case of the political elite taking action that’s overwhelmingly unpopular with the people politicians are supposed represent. To make matters more problematic, it’s a case of the Greek political elite doing so at the urging of the European political elite. It’s the EU that most wanted the settlement so it could claim a new member (North Macedonia) and achieve a victory of sorts over the nationalism that lies behind the “naming” dispute.
Ironically, the Greek government that pushed the deal through is a left-wing, supposedly populist entity that came to power promising to stand up to the EU (and the Germans whom they perceive as calling the shots). Over the years, however, the government has fallen more in line with the EU. Now, in one of its last acts (a conservative government will come to power after elections to be held this year), it has rammed through the EU’s pet deal — one with little appeal to Greek citizens.
At least the European Council president Donald Tusk was thoughtful enough to send prime minister Alexis Tsipras a shout-out on Twitter.
It’s nice to see this dispute settled. It’s less nice to see the will of the Greek people blatantly disregarded.
Will Greece benefit concretely from the resolution of this dispute? Tsipras says it will. “Very soon [opponents of the deal] will see the benefits for the country from this historic step forward,” he has declared.
Maybe. My sense, though, is that the deal will neither benefit nor harm Greece. The dispute was never about much that’s concrete, and it’s resolution probably won’t yield many tangible consequences.