Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Macedonia Wins a Battle But Not the War in Name Dispute with Greece

Evelina Topalova, December 11, 2011

A historic day for Macedonia, a bitter defeat for Greece. That is how Macedonian media reported euphorically about the judgement of the International Court of Justice in the Hague from December 5, stipulating that Greece has breached the 1995 interim agreement with Skopje by blocking the country's admission to NATO at the summit of the alliance in April 2008.

With 15 votes "for" and only one "against" the court concluded that Greece had violated article 11, paragraph 1 from the arrangement, that says that the country agrees not to object Skopje's admission to international or regional organisations and institutions whose member it is. Greece has reserved the right, though, to object to any membership of Skopje if the country is to be referred under a name different than Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Athens and Skopje are at loggerheads over the name of Macedonia for two decades. Greece believes that Macedonia's constitutional name implies territorial pretences to its northern province with the same name.

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov called on Greeks to comply with the court's ruling that was final and mandatory for all UN members. "At this moment we don't want to think in categories winners and losers. We should work together with Greece for the sake of our common future and the future of the region. We are reaching out to Greece in the name of good neighbourly relations and friendship. We consider this ruling a positive impetus," he said.

Greece, on its part, said that it would study the court's ruling and added that the two sides would continue searching for a solution to the dispute. Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said that Greece was committed to good neighbourly relations with Skopje but was also calling for finding a mutually acceptable solution.

The ruling of the court in The Hague could have a moral value and make Macedonians feel like winners but actually it does not oblige third parties, like NATO or the EU, to give a green light to Macedonian membership application. A compromise and more flexibility between the two sides are needed in order to find a solution to the problem.

As pointed out in an editorial in the Dnevnik daily from December 6, the ruling is not "a ticket for immediate entry to NATO" and Macedonia needs to focus on the strategy - what after The Hague. Utrinski Vesnik daily added: "The ruling, that has a big legal and moral weight, should not be used to gain political points at domestic level and straining further the relations with Greece".

A similar view was shared by EP Rapporteur on Macedonia Richard Howitt, who told Deutsche Welle that the ICJ's ruling should give new impetus to the talks and lead eventually to a mutually acceptable solution. The European Commission said it would take note of the ruling but declined to comment. Macedonia is still hoping to get a green-light for opening of its EU accession talks at the EU summit on December 8 and 9 and not just another confirmation of the recommendation.

In the October 12 progress report on Macedonia the Commission said that the country continued to meet political criteria and was ready to start accession talks.
The document urges for more efforts in order to guarantee effective implementation of judicial and administrative reform, fight against corruption and freedom of expression in the media. Dialogue between the government and the opposition needs to be strengthened in order to ensure the smooth functioning of institutions and to allow Parliament to play its full role, the report reads.

The European Commission did not miss to note that the name dispute was affecting the relations between the two neighbours and recalled Skopje's decision to erect a monument resembling Alexander the Great, which was slammed as provocation by Athens. "Actions and statements, which could adversely affect good neighbourly relations should be avoided," the Commission recommended.

Macedonia was granted a recommendation to start membership talks in 2009 but the name dispute is still impending over its European and Euro-Atlantic ambitions. One should not forget that the decisions at the EU leaders' summit require consensus and that good neighbourly relations are among the criteria which fulfilling could bring positive outcome for Macedonia.

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