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22nd May 2022

Athens and Skopje in UN court over name dispute

Athens on Tuesday (18 November) strongly criticised Skopje's decision to file a complaint against Greece with the International Court of Justice (IJC), and accused it of hindering the process of finding a solution to the "name issue" that has been poisoning relations for 17 years.

On Monday, EU membership candidate Macedonia started legal proceedings against Greece at the ICJ, accusing the country of not complying with its international obligations at a NATO summit held in Bucharest earlier this year, when it blocked an invitation to Skopje to join the organisation because of the unresolved name dispute between them.

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"Mr Gruevski's government ... continued its delaying tactics by instituting proceedings at the International Court of Justice regarding an alleged violation on the part of Greece" of a 1995 agreement between the two countries, Greek foreign ministry spokesperson George Koumoutsakos stated.

"With this action, the government of Skopje once again reaffirms that it is not interested in a swift resolution of the dispute on the issue of the country's definitive name," and is violating "the fundamental principle of good neighbourly relations," he went on.

Greece has been refusing to recognise its neighbour's constitutional name - the Republic of Macedonia - since it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 as a northern region in Greece is also called Macedonia and Athens fears allowing Skopje to use the name will open the way to territorial claims. It also believes the name is part of its own historical heritage.

But under Article 11 of the UN Interim Agreement signed between them in 1995, Athens has committed not to object to Skopje's application to join any "international, multilateral and regional organisations and institutions" of which Greece is part, provided that it applies under the provisional name foreseen in the deal – Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

The Macedonian government accuses Greece of breaking this commitment by blocking its NATO application in April, however.

Skopje to 'remain out of the organisations it wants to join'

Skopje is asking the ICJ to declare Greece to be in violation of Article 11 and order it to comply.

"We have lodged the application with the ICJ for the sole purpose of protecting our rights under the Interim Accord. We have thought very carefully before bringing this case, but see no other way for justice to be done and our rights to be protected," Macedonian foreign minister Antonio Milososki stated on Monday.

"We have strong confidence in the ICJ to help us resolve this discrete legal dispute, noting that the court functions fairly and efficiently and can also act speedily," he added.

Greece has said it would participate in the judicial process and defend its position "in a self-confident and determined manner."

It also warned against the negative consequences the procedure would have on Macedonia's bid to join international organisations.

"We are ready to defend our positions, but this will be a long and drawn-out legal procedure and throughout its course, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will remain outside the international organisations it wants to join," Mr Koumoutsakos was also reported as telling Greek NET television network.

For its part, the EU has taken note of the Macedonian initiative, with European Commission spokesperson Krisztina Nagy saying: "It is up to the court to assess the admissibility of that case."

Ms Nagy underlined, however: "Maintaining good neighbourly relations remains essential [in the region]."

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Macedonia is ready to start accession talks with the EU and the fact that the old dispute with Greece over its name is hindering the process harms not just Skopje, but the EU's credibility as well, Macedonian foreign minister Antonio Milososki told EUobserver.

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