The International Court of Justice has ruled today (5 December) that by blocking Macedonia's NATO bid in April 2008, Greece has breached a bilateral agreement signed between the two countries in 1995.
The ruling of the Hague-based court, adopted by 15 votes to one, finds that Greece, by objecting to the admission of the Macedonia to NATO in April 2008, has breached its obligation not to block the country's accession to international organizations, if the country is referred to as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" (FYROM).
Claims by Greece that the court has no jurisdiction to rule on the dispute have also been rejected.
Although Macedonia is recognised as the constitutional name by all EU countries except Greece, the name dispute has led to an impasse in the country's membership of both the EU and NATO.
The International court ruling is more of a symbolic nature, as it cannot impose fines on Greece or force it to refrain from similar moves. However, it does highlight that Athens' veto on launching accession negotiations with Skopje is even more unjustified.
Macedonia still finds itself unable to start talks with the EU, despite the fact that it received the status of candidate country as early as December 2005. Croatia, another former Yugoslav republic, obtained candidate status in 2004, opened negotiations in 2005 and will sign an accession treaty on Friday.
"The ruling is a step toward NATO and EU," Macedonia's foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said, as quoted by the daily Utrinski vesnik.
Poposki added that the sides should not look at each other as victors and defeated, stressing that his country's EU and NATO membership served also the interests of Greece.
"I expect that Greece will allow us to join NATO in accordance with its obligations under international law and with the support of the other NATO members," Poposki said.
However, the Greek foreign Ministry stated that the judgement did not relate, and could not relate, to the decision making process of NATO.
"Most specifically, with regard to NATO, we recall that its decisions, including those taken at the Summit in Bucharest (2008), Strasbourg (2009) and Lisbon (2010), were taken unanimously, reflecting its members shared conviction that the name issue of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia be resolved before it is invited to join the Alliance," Athens insists.
Greece calls for continuing negotiations in good faith to reach a mutually acceptable solution on the name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, expressing the hope that Skopje would begin to pursue the negotiations in good faith, as the name issue could "only be resolved through negotiation under the auspices of the United Nations."
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov called a meeting of the state leadership immediately after the verdict was read. President Ivanov afterwards called on Greece that, "Instead of blocking us, Greece should support our integration in international organizations in accordance with the Interim Agreement." He asked Greece to respect the ruling ,which is a clear confirmation and justification which provides additional international reputation to the state policy of the Republic of Macedonia. "We urge Greece to act as responsibly as we do in relation to the Interim Agreement and to respect the judgment of the International Court of Justice."
Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski dismissed the comments from the Greek MFA that the ruling was mixed news.
According to Gruevski, the lesson to be learned is that the violating party should not repeat its violations further.
"Greece needs to abstain from further objections to the Macedonian application to NATO and other international organizations," said the Prime Minister. He called on the citizens of Macedonia not to react with triumph or euphoria, adding that Greece is a neighbor and Macedonia wants to develop relations of cooperation, respect and trust with Greece.
"We have acted responsibly in the past two decades, since this issue has been opened, and we will continue to do so. We expect to work together with Greece in the 'Agenda 2014' that Greece herself promotes, as an initiative to integrate the countries of the South East Europe into the European Union".
Macedonian Parliament Speaker Trajko Veljanovski said that the ruling in the Hague the ICJ found that Macedonia was acting in good faith in the relations to Greece, and that it was vindicated in its determination to join NATO and EU.
Ethnic Albanian DUI party leader Ali Ahmeti said that were no winners in this case, that Macedonia and Greece are neighbors and that the two countries would continue to look for a solution to the name issue.
"We emphasise that Macedonian entry to NATO will mean more stability to the country and the region, this integration will bring peace and stability to the citizens," he stated.
United Nation's Special Envoy for the talks between Greece and Macedonia, Ambassador Matthew Nimetz said that this decision should be seen as an opportunity to continue a creative dialogue between the two countries rather than creating greater divergence.
"At this juncture, a forward-looking attitude that emphasizes solutions rather than differences would help make a lasting solution possible. I have informed the Parties that I stand ready to work with them at the earliest opportunity and recommend intensifying the efforts to find a permanent solution"