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Greece; International Court of Justice: Judgment on Blocking Entry of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into NATO

(Feb. 6, 2012) On December 5, 2011, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in The Hague, Netherlands, issued its judgment in a case concerning Greece's actions to block the entry of the Republic of Macedonia (hereafter referred to by its UN-recorded name of FYROM) into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). (ICJ, Judgment of 5 December 2011, Application of the Interim Accord of 13 September 1995 (The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia v. Greece).)

The ICJ, based on evidence that Greece during the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008, objected to the FYROM's entry into NATO, held that Greece violated the Interim Accord of September 1995, which was agreed to by Greece and the FYROM. (Interim Accord, signed at New York, Sept. 13, 1995, 4 UNTS 1995). Under this Accord, Greece undertook the obligation not to block the FYROM's entry into NATO while the dispute over the use of the name Macedonia by the FYROM is still unresolved. (Id.) Greece challenged the jurisdiction of the ICJ over this issue on the grounds that the dispute was related to opposing views over the name Macedonia, and that the issue concerned NATO and its members and therefore fell outside the ICJ's jurisdiction. The ICJ rejected these arguments. Nor did it accept Greece's claim that Greece's objection to the FYROM's use of the name Macedonia fell under the exception provided in article 11 of the Interim Accord that permitted Greece to object to the FYROM's admission to organizations if the FYROM applied to them using any other name than FYROM. (Id.)

Background of the Dispute

The FYROM emerged as a new state after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in January 1991, when the Socialist Republic of Macedonia, one of the former Yugoslavia's six constituent republics, declared independence. In June 1991, under a new name of the Republic of Macedonia, it sought membership in the United Nations. Greece objected to the FYROM's membership in that body based on its use of the name Macedonia, because that name refers to a geographic region in southeastern Europe, part of which is a region of Greece that bears the same name. (Id.)

On November 17, 2008, the FYROM initiated proceedings against Greece before the ICJ, after its unsuccessful bid to join NATO during the April 2008 NATO Summit. The FYROM argued that Greece objected to its admission into NATO because of the existing dispute over the name Macedonia, in direct violation of the 1995 Interim Accord. Among the Accord's key provisions is Greece's obligation not to object to the FYROM's application for admission in any international or regional organization of which Greece is a member. However, Greece reserved the right under the Accord to object to such admission if and to the extent that the applicant would be referred to in those organizations by a name different from that referred to in United Nations Security Council Resolution 817 of 1993 (S/RES/817/ (1993) (wherein the name FYROM is used)). (ICJ, supra.)

Greece's Response to the ICJ Ruling

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece affirmed that the ICJ's ruling does not have a bearing on the name dispute and that such a dispute, as the ICJ suggested, should be resolved within the framework of the U.N. Security Council resolutions and through negotiations under the auspices of the U.N. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs interprets the suggestion from the ICJ as meaning that the FYROM should express good will and move towards finding a mutually acceptable solution to the name dispute. The Ministry also stated that the ICJ's ruling does not have any impact on NATO's decision-making process and membership requirements. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hellenic Republic, Announcement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Regarding the Judgment of the International Court of Justice (Dec. 5, 2011).)

The FYROM's Response to the ICJ Ruling

Nicola Poposki, the Foreign Minister of FYROM, welcomed the judgment of the ICJ and stated that it prevents Greece from “continuing its efforts to block my country from joining NATO and the European Union.” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Macedonia, ICJ Rules Greece Violated Interim Accord, FYROM Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (Dec. 5, 2011).)

While acknowledging that the dispute before the ICJ was not about the name issue, the Foreign Minister affirmed that “the Republic of Macedonia remains strongly committed to finding a lasting, mutually acceptable solution to the difference with Greece over the name …” and that it remains firmly committed to the rule of law and to acceding [to] NATO and EU membership. The decision of the Court marks a further step down the road to membership. Again, I look forward to Greece allowing our membership in NATO, in accordance with its obligations under international law, and with the support of the other NATO members. (Id.)