Monday

11th Dec 2017

UN court: Greece broke the law in Macedonia name dispute

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday (5 December) said Greece broke international law in vetoing Macedonia's entry to Nato due to a bilateral name dispute.

"Greece, by objecting to the admission of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to Nato, has breached its obligation [under an interim accord signed in September 1995]," the Hague-based court said in a press release. The 1995 agreement stipulates that Athens is not allowed to use the name dispute to block Macedonia's accession to international organisations.

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  • Alexander the Great: the root of the dispute between Skopje and Athens (Photo: wikipedia)

Ever since Macedonia declared its independence in the aftermath of Yugoslavia's breakup in 1991, Greece has refused to recognise the name "Republic of Macedonia" claiming that it refers to one of its own provinces and is linked to its heritage.

Macedonia was accepted into the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name Former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia (Fyrom), pending the resolution of the dispute.

Skopje has also crossed red lines in the 1995 agreement under which it should refrain from "provocations" - its government named a highway and an airport "Alexander the Great" after the ancient king whom Macedonians claim to be their ancestor.

Monday's ICJ ruling does not express an opinion on how to resolve the name dispute. But it gives Macedonia political ammunition to press for opening EU accession talks, which have been hled up for the past two years for the same reasons as the Nato problem.

EU foreign ministers on Monday in Brussels were to look at Macedonia as part of a larger debate on enlargement. But Greece is not expected to back down.

"We think it's long overdue for the membership negotiations to start. They can start as 'former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia' and then end the negotiations when the dispute is solved ... But Greece does not agree to that," one EU diplomat told this website.

"The bigger the austerity squeeze, the more people will try to defend what they perceive as a matter of national pride," another EU diplomat said, calling the whole situation "ridiculous."

The draft conclusions for the EU summit on Friday envisage starting membership talks with Macedonia "when appropriate" - meaning when the name dispute is solved.

For its part, the Greek foreign ministry on Monday said the ICJ verdict "does not address the issue of the difference of the name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, confirming that this difference should be resolved ... through negotiations under the auspices of the UN."

It blamed Skopje, noting "this indirectly calls on the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to demonstrate a spirit of compromise so that negotiations may lead to a mutually acceptable solution."

Prime Minister George Papademos warned in a statement that "continuing provocations do not contribute to the consolidation of good neighbourly relations and mutual confidence ... Our country is ready to continue the negotiations in order to solve the name issue."

Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Monday repeated that Macedonia will be invited to join "as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached."

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The Greek government collapse and the advent of a new team of technocrats demanded by international lenders cast bleak perspectives for solving a long-standing dispute with neighbouring Macedonia over the country's name, say politicians dealing with the region.

EU ushers Macedonia to come closer

The European commission has said it would restore full-throated support for Macedonia to start accession talks if it kept up reform.

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The UK leaving the EU gives an opportunity to bring the Western Balkans closer, Bulgaria's PM said in Brussels. Bulgaria will hold the upcoming rotating presidency, while Juncker said Serbia and Montenegro will be EU members by 2025.

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