Greek minister of foreign affairs Nikos Kotzias resigned on Wednesday, after a heated cabinet meeting during which accusations were exchanged between him and minister of defence Panos Kammenos.
The two ministers were in disagreement over the Prespes deal between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Kammenos, who is the leader of the right-wing party Independent Greeks (ANEL), has been vocal in his opposition to the agreement, which will see FYROM adopt the name ‘North Macedonia’.
At the cabinet meeting, Kammenos accused Kotzias of mismanaging secret foreign ministry funds and being a pawn of US billionaire financier George Soros.
The foreign minister was reportedly deeply offended by the allegations, and responded with a to legislate for mandatory transparency of the defense ministry’s “discretionary funds” management.
He was also very uspet over the fact that the Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras failed to support him against Kammenos’, who is the government’s junior coalition partner and is key to the government’s parliamentary majority.
Tsipras accepted Kotzias’ resignation and proceeded to assume the Foreign Affairs portfolio himself, in a move that is meant to send a message towards multiple receivers.
On one hand, Greece wants to solidify its stance towards Europe in regards to the matter with FYROM and on the other, Tsipras means to show to the members of the cabinet that he will not tolerate any underhanded politics and personal strategies which might endanger Greece’s stable course to escape from austerity.
According to various analysts, Tsipras opted to ‘sacrifice’ Kotzias for fear of losing Kammenos’ support. SYRIZA and ANEL are believed to be ‘strange bedfellows’ and this crisis shows cracks within the coalition, with some thinking that it marks the end of the Tsipras’ government.
Speaking to the media, government spokesperson, Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said: “The prime minister doesn’t beg anybody, he has never been afraid of the political developments. He does not crawl at the political developments. He challenges them when he judges that it will be an advantage for his country. The train moves on, whoever doesn’t want to reach the destination or whoever feels discomfort can simply get off.”
As he departed the PM Residence on his way to Brussels for the meeting with the EU leaders, Tsipras made a statement to the members of the press in which he thanked Kotzias “for his precious contribution all these years in upgrading the country’s geopolitical role” and said it “pained him” to accept his resignation.
The prime minister stressed that he “will not tolerate double talk and self-serving strategies” and added: “I decided to take up the foreign ministry for the time being and the responsibility that comes with it, sending a message at the same time that this decision signifies my determination to do whatever possible to guarantee the successful conclusion of the historical agreement of Prespes.”
This might prove to be a challenge, as the Zaev government in FYROM seems to be struggling to muster enough deputies in the country’s Parliament to ratify the agreement.
Kotzias however doesn’t seem to be prepared to let the matter rest, as he posted a tweet from his personal account in which he said that “There comes a time, as the poet says, when you need to decide who you will choose and who you will leave behind. The PM and a number of ministers made their choices during yesterday’s cabinet meeting and now I will make mine. It’s good to remember, however, the lyric: they tried to bury me deep, they forgot I was a seed.”
The news of Kotzias departure from the Foreign Ministry promted his Albanian counterpart, Ditmir Bushati, to issue a statement, thanking him for his efforts to resolve long-standing bilateral issues.
“There are few joys in this profession, but the most treasured ones derive from genuine cooperation and a spirit of collegiality. Thank you Nikos Kotzias for your efforts in jointly opening a new page of collaboration, trust and good neighborly relations between our countries,” Bushati tweeted in his official account.
Greece and Albania had been discussing issues such as the demarcation of the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of both countries and the rights of ethnic Greeks in Albania.