Macedonia's EU hopes given boost by name ruling

By bne IntelliNews December 6, 2011

Phil Cain in Graz, Austria -

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) said on Monday, December 5 that Greece had violated a bilateral agreement by barring neighbouring Macedonia from joining Nato in 2008, offering a slim chance of compromise between the two nations.

In September 1995, Greece agreed not to block its neighbour's applications to join international, multilateral and regional organisations if it did so under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). In April 2008, however, Greece unilaterally opposed Macedonia's Nato entry at a summit in Bucharest, the move which prompting Macedonia to launch its ICJ legal action in November that year. The Hague court ruled 15 votes to one in favour of Macedonia's contention, with the only opposing vote coming from Greek judge Emmanuel Roucounasu.

The neighbourly dispute has simmered since the Yugoslav province declared independence in 1991. Greece objected from the start because it opted to take the same name as a Greek province, rejecting alternatives like the "Republic of Skopje". In 1993, the UN said it would provisionally refer to it as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia while talks went on. A Greek trade embargo lasted until 1995. "This is going to present a small window of opportunity for both sides to find some kind of functional compromise," said Saso Ordanoski, an analyst at Skopje-based consultancy VeVe. "It would be very clear if the Greeks do not take this opportunity that they would show that it wasn't only related to the name, but the deeper geopolitical interests they may think they have."

In reality, Ordanoski says, it's in Greece's interest to stabilise the region. However, the level of willingness to compromise is hard to judge. Macedonian President Gjorgje Ivanov called on Greece to respect the ICJ verdict, saying it was important not to look at the decision as a matter of winners and losers. "Greece is reviewing the decision," said the Greek Foreign Ministry. "Greece will continue to pursue negotiations in good faith to reach a mutually acceptable solution on the name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, within the spirit and letter of the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly of the UN."

The ruling does not affect Nato's decision to reject Macedonia's bid at the Bucharest summit in 2008, said Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "We agreed that an invitation will be extended to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached."

Some observers speculate that the UK and Sweden, which favour Macedonian entry into Nato, might bring the matter up in within relevant Nato bodies on Wednesday or Thursday this week. Whatever comes of such initiatives, Athens will have to make up its mind on how the ICJ ruling affects its stance by May 20 next year when a Nato summit is scheduled to take place in Chicago.

The verdict may also feed into discussions at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, December 9, which will consider if Macedonia should be allowed to start negotiations on entering the EU. Greece's qualms about its name have meant it has remained a candidate since 2005. On October 12, the European Commission recommended for the third time in a row that Macedonia should start negotiations, a move Greece said it would block.

Influential Nato and EU members, however, may not make the most of this chance to pressure Greece into removing its block on Macedonian membership because of nagging concern about the authoritarian style of Macedonia's Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

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