ATHENS, Greece — The head of Greece’s main opposition party said Thursday he will submit a motion for a no-confidence vote in the government, objecting to a deal reached between the prime ministers of Greece and Macedonia to settle a decades-old dispute over Macedonia’s name.
New Democracy party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, speaking in parliament during a debate on a package of economic reforms, said he would formally submit the motion later in the day, after a scheduled vote on the reform bill.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev of Macedonia agreed Tuesday to rename the latter’s country North Macedonia, ending a disagreement that has prevented it from joining international institutions such as NATO.
The dispute has roused strong nationalist sentiment in both countries for years and the deal was met with anger by critics on both sides of the border, who accused their respective prime ministers of conceding too much to the other side.
“I have an obligation before the Greek people to try to avert the mortgaging of our country’s future with an agreement that is detrimental to our national interests,” Mitsotakis said. “I challenge Mr. Tsipras … if he dares, to convert the motion of no-confidence into a motion of confidence in the government.”
Tsipras’ left-led coalition government has a four-seat majority in the 300-member parliament, but the deal has led to a rift within the government. The stance of Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, who heads the coalition’s junior partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks party, will be crucial.
Kammenos said before the deal was announced that he would oppose the agreement in a parliamentary vote, which would leave Tsipras dependent on support from political opponents to ratify it in parliament.
It is unclear, however, whether his objections to the Macedonia name deal would lead him to bring down the government by voting against Tsipras in a no-confidence motion.
Greece has long demanded its northern neighbour change its name, saying the term “Macedonia” implies territorial claims on its own northern province of the same name, birthplace of the ancient warrior king Alexander the Great, and usurps ancient Greek heritage and history.
Opponents in Greece object to any use of the term “Macedonia” in their northern neighbour’s name. Opponents in Macedonia see any modification of the country’s name as a threat to their national identity.
Across the border in Macedonia, Zaev is facing a political backlash of his own.
On Wednesday, the country’s President Gjorge Ivanov said he would not sign off on the deal once it is voted on by parliament. Such a refusal would delay the implementation of the deal, which had been expected to be signed this weekend.
Up to 1,500 people held a peaceful protest against the deal outside parliament in Skopje late Wednesday, chanting “Traitors” and blowing whistles. Greek opponents of the deal were planning a protest in Athens Friday, when Tsipras had been due to brief parliament on details of the deal.