Three months away from European Parliament elections: North Macedonia and Turkey as looming issues

As the elections for the European Parliament get nearer, two fields of special interest to Greece are in progress. Both involve – albeit in different ways – “Europe”, meaning the EU but also the wider European institutions; both may well influence the way in which the Euro-elections are run in Greece and how they may determine the future set-up of the Greek political landscape.

The first such field has to do with elections in North Macedonia, the quite-contentious northern neighbor of Greece which owes to the Prespa Agreement (of 2018, into force Febr. 2019) its accession to NATO and its on-going but hesitant progress towards accession to the EU. The May 8 parliamentary elections will most probably end in VRMO-DPMNE winning the race – that is, the Right-wing/nationalist party of Christian Mitkovski that is clearly opposed to the Social-Democrats of Zoran Zaev, who was – along with Greece’s Alexis Tsipras – the architect of the Prespa Agreement. It is highly improbable that a VMRO-based Government would renege the Prespa acquis; still, it might well back-pedal on its implementation – just as the Mitsotakis Government did in Greece for the better part of the last 3 to 4 years period – for fear of being shoved to an politically unpleasant corner.

In a Greek politics context, the road to the Euro-elections may prove thorny for the present Government if there is a resurgence of the “Macedonia issue”: the right flank of Mitsotakis has in-built nationalist reflexes, while further to its right there are smaller, vociferously nationalist-cum-religiously motivated groupings attempting to pry away votes using the taboo issue of the name of “Macedonia”. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister (and Prespa Agreement major factor) Alexis Tsipras, already charged by the Council of Europe to chair the Committee on the Western Balkans, will probably try to stage a political comeback at least partly based on the Prespa soft landing of Greece’s foreign policy.

The second field is far more significant, since it has to do with Turkey, a country that has made an art of fence-sitting in the Russia-Ukraine war underway but, nonetheless, keep the West in constant vigilance lest Ankara slide over to Russia. In this context, it is the Mitsotakis Government which has underway a soft-landing approach to relations with Ankara, with a structured political dialogue underway accompanied by confidence-building measures (in matters of defense/defusing of tensions over the Aegean), as well as by some measure of coordination in migration issues and further “low-politics”/economic cooperation initiatives. All of which are viewed in a positive light both by the U.S. and the EU.

But here too, internal tensions within Greek political parties are holding back the pace of thawing of the ice between Athens and Ankara. And, as Euro-elections get nearer the lure of grand-standing might prove difficult to resist.