After New Democracy’s victory in the parliamentary elections in Greece, the main news in Macedonia has been the new Greek government, and the suspicion that political changes in our southern neighbor can mean a sharp turn to the right in relation to the Prespa Agreement, which would consequently mean jeopardizing our Euro-Atlantic, or in this case most likely only European ambitions. What can we expect from Mitsotakis, we all ask ourselves. The politician who was one of the loudest opponents of the Prespa Agreement, calling it a betrayal of Greece’s interests, a harmful agreement that must not be signed and ratified, now has an absolute majority in the Greek parliament, and is realistic in a position to do something about this issue. Hence, the concern in Macedonia is quite realistic whether the new Greek government will have a new relationship with our country and our newfound friendship with Greece.
The simple answer is – no. With a little more of a domestic drama, with a bit of more complicated implementation and interpretation of what has been written in it, the Prespa Agreement will remain. The Euro-Atlantic integration of North Macedonia will continue. The friendship will be maintained. What will most likely change is the climate and the tone in which we communicate, as well as the tolerance to some issues. That, in the end, might be good for us.
Here’s why I think it’s almost impossible for the Prespa deal package to get complicated. First, if we take away the home rhetoric from the equation, Greece’s geostrategic interest is, in fact, for the region to develop as quickly as possible and integrate in the EU. This would provide additional stability, security, it would open new export markets, and new opportunities for Greek investments. Thus, the real interest of the Greek foreign policy is the package reached in Prespa, not only to maintain but also to accelerate. In this package, Greece is interested in the faster stabilization of the region, for it to advance and not to remain a gray zone in the EU integration. This interest has nothing to do with current politics, domestic rhetoric or the wishes of the political elites, but is a constant, so I do not believe that Mitsotakis would do anything to jeopardize the real geostrategic narrative of his country.
Secondly, Mitsotakis has much bigger and more urgent challenges than problematizing the name agreement. He comes to power at a time when Greece is moving out of austerity measures, so expectations will be high. The people of Greece expect an instant boom in the economy, employees in public institutions expect an increase in benefits, business expects GDP growth, and citizens expect reducing of taxes. All of this must take place under the watchful eye of international lenders, who expect intensified economic growth without wastefulness, with relatively strong financial discipline and relatively large budget deficits. Moreover, the name issue is no longer a hot topic in the Greek public, which mobilizes a large number of voters in an essential way. Thus, he would not have much to gain, but there would be a lot to lose it he decides to deal with national romanticism instead of economy.
Third, the train carrying the Prespa Agreement and good neighborly relations has already departed, and the political cost of revising this narrative can be tremendous. Mitsotakis, if he wants to problematize this package, will have to go against the whole international community, which has already declared the agreement as a huge success, “a great example of good neighborliness”, and nominated the leaders, who have achieved this deal, for the Nobel Peace Prize. From this position, the unilateral revision of this package would mean confrontation with much more serious international interests and forces, and Mitsotakis personally, and partly Greece, would again restore the image of “the bad boy”, from which they hardly saved themselves with the help of the austerity measures, and with the help of this agreement. Thus, I do not believe that any political elite in Greece would like to put itself in that situation again and be targeted by the international community due to irresponsible behavior.
Fourth, this positions suits Mitsotakis perfectly – someone else signed the agreement and that person will be the political “culprit” for the harm caused, while Mitsotakis will only use the benefits of it. Plus, whenever there is a need, with a relatively benign domestic mini-drama about the harmfulness of the contract and the endangered national interests, it can defocus from domestic problems. So, we will come to the classical Balkan political school: they will shout and scream at home, but will meow like kittens outside; there will be a lot of chest-banging and mini-dramas at home, while there will be full cooperation and “close your eyes and take it” outside, and the agreement will run as smoothly as possible.
Fifth, the only category in which I expect the tightening of positions is the implementation of the agreement and the interpretation of its still open questions, which I do not think it’s a necessarily bad position for our country. I think that for both sides it is healthy to have no delays in the implementation of the agreement. We have parts of the agreement that are not implemented, which only leaves an untreated wound, and therefore I think that such diplomatic pressure will actually take us over the coast, will make us finish it and dedicate ourselves to the next challenge, which is certainly useful. The same goes for Greece, which should face this issue as soon as possible. Therefore, the faster and stricter, the better for everyone – the open issues in the Balkans do not fade away over time, yet they thrive into wild weeds, which can never be rooted out.