Athens Digest 18.01.2018

• UN mediator delivers proposals for FYROM’s name. Lower expectations, difficulties ahead

• PM Tsipras speaks in his party meeting against “nationalism” on FYROM’s name dispute

• Incident between Greek and Turkish boats near the islet of Imia is indicative of the broader tension

• Support and also criticism by MinFin Tsakalotos on Macron’s proposals on the future of Europe

UN Special Envoy Matthew Nimetz met with delegates from Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in New York yesterday. Nimetz put a set of proposals on the table stressing that a solution for the name dispute without the term Macedonia is “unrealistic”. He estimated that it would take a couple of months to get a good picture on the progress of the discussions. The two governments will now study the proposed terms. Following the trilateral meeting FYROM representative Vasko Naumovski said that the proposals by the UN mediator are “far from a decent solution”. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that FYROM will be invited to join the Alliance only if a mutually acceptable solution to the name dispute is reached. The Greek government is weighing its options, also given the stance of ANEL, the junior coalition government partner, and awaits the rally in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki next Sunday, expected to draw thousands against the use of the term ‘Macedonia’ by FYROM.

Addressing SYRIZA’s Political Secretariat in a closed meeting, PM Alexis Tsipras urged his party members to inform the Greek people about the history of the FYROM’s name dispute, the mistakes made by previous governments, and the need to solve the problem. Crucially, according to government sources, Tsipras said that “nationalist tendencies must be defeated”. This comment can be seen as a message to his government partner Panos Kammenos, leader of ANEL. Kammenos rejects the use of the term ‘Macedonia’ in the future name of FYROM, thus creating friction with SYRIZA.

An incident between a Hellenic Navy gunboat and a Turkish patrol boat near the islet of Imia on Wednesday raised concern about the tension between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean. Moving within Greek territorial waters, the Turkish patrol boat conducted a manoeuvre and ‘touched’ the side of the Greek gunboat ‘Nikiforos’, which was on a routine patrol near Imia. Back in January 1996, Greece and Turkey were brought to the brink of war due to the escalation of a crisis in the same area. Yesterday’s incident did not escalate and no damage was reported. Greek authorities are trying to assess whether this incident was staged by the Turkish side or happened due to the inexperience of the crew of the Turkish ship.

In an article published in French daily Le Monde, Euclid Tsakalotos supports part of Emmanuel Macron’s proposals for the future of Europe, but also stresses that the EU’s democratic and social deficit must be further addressed. Tsakalotos admits that “it is indisputable that since his election, President Macron has revitalized the debate on the reform of Europe, and in particular the euro area”. However, the Greek minister also claims that “President Macron tried to create a ‘rainbow’ coalition in France, ranging from the centre-left to the centre-right, partly to boost his major European venture. There is an issue regarding the extent to which such a coalition can be exported and developed in a different European environment. But there is also the question of whether this is desirable. Democracy is fuelled by political, ideological and social differences”.

On our radar: Anarchist group ‘Rubicon’ raises questions
Self-proclaimed anarchists burst into the Finance Ministry in Athens on Wednesday and threw leaflets against the recent reforms concerning strikes and e-auctions. Members of the ‘Rubicon’ group reached the office of the MinFin Euclid Tsakalotos, shouted slogans, and then left without causing damage. The police did not arrest anyone. The incident, which came after the invasion of the Ministry of National Defence, the attack with paint on the Israeli Embassy and the throwing of objects at the Saudi Embassy in 2017, raised once again questions about the effectiveness of the authorities in restricting the group’s operations. Opposition parties accuse the government of providing immunity to groups such as ‘Rubicon’ but the government categorically rejects these allegations.