By Misko Taleski
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced its verdict Monday (December 5th) in the three-year-old name dispute case between Macedonia and Greece.
After the court addressed the first of the verdict’s three points — that it has jurisdiction in the case — it concluded in a 15 to 1 ruling that Greece violated Article 11 of the 1995 Interim Accord by vetoing Macedonia’s bid for NATO membership at the 2008 summit in Bucharest.
The accord between the two countries stipulates that Greece will not block Macedonia’s membership in international organisations if done under the UN provisional designation “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.
ICJ President Hisashi Owada said the court also rejected Greece’s claim that it acted in response to Macedonia allegedly breaching the accord. “The applicant [Macedonia] did not violate the agreement prior to the Bucharest summit,” Owada said.
The court however, rejected the legal remedy — a court order to prevent Greece from violating the accord in the future — that Macedonia sought in the third point.
“[A]s a general rule, there is no reason to suppose that a state whose act or conduct has been declared wrongful by the court will repeat that act or conduct in the future, since its good faith must be presumed,” the court said.
The ICJ verdicts are final as well as legally binding for UN member states, and are respected in a vast majority of the cases.
“This verdict is a clear confirmation and a justification of the policy that the Republic of Macedonia led throughout the past period,” President Gjorge Ivanov’s cabinet said in a statement for SETimes.
Ivanov added that Macedonia remains fully committed to comply with the accord constructively and in good faith, and called on Greece to do so as well.
He stressed that Macedonia does not view the situation through categories like winners and losers. “We need to work together with Greece on our common future and the future of our region. Again, we offer our hand of friendship and good neighbourly relations to Greece.”
Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski welcomed the verdict and informed the public the court rejected all Greek demands on key points.
Particularly important, Gruevski said, is the court’s position that Macedonia can use its constitutional name with international organisations.
Equally important is the court’s assessment that during the process of overcoming differences about the name “Macedonia participated with good will and has shown a degree of openness, while Greece unjustifiably blocked our country’s integration in NATO.”
Gruevski vowed that Macedonia will respect this verdict per international law as it is an obligation. “According to international law, Greece should abstain from further blocking of Macedonia’s membership in NATO or other international organisations,” he said.
“If the verdict is viewed and affirmed through the right angle, there is basis to improve relations and strengthen co-operation with Greece on issues of bi-lateral and regional interest,” Gruevski added.
In his view, the court supported Macedonia on all three points despite the third point seemingly being in Greece’s favour. “The court … considers it should believe that Greece will not repeat the illegal act which the court declared as such,” he said.
Gruevski added this is no time for euphoria, calling on Macedonians to respect this position.
Analyst and former diplomat Dimitar Mirchev told SETimes that the verdict will strengthen Macedonia’s international position.
“Forthcoming is the affirmation of the Macedonian position and integration in the Euroatlantic institutions. Now even the European countries should have different understanding for the Macedonian position,” Mirchev said.
Macedonian World Congress (WMC) President Todor Petrov told SETimes the verdict is a clear legal victory, despite attempts by some inside and outside Macedonia to relativise it.
Petrov explained that a growing number of people believe Macedonia should re-examine its NATO and EU membership bids if Greece continues holding Macedonia’s Euroatlantic integration hostage while the two organisations go along pretending evenhandedness.
“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ is not an international name but a temporary reference only for use in the UN system for the state whose name is Macedonia. Macedonia was accepted in the UN under its state name and has the right to apply for membership under its name in all international organisations, here including NATO and the EU, regardless of whether Greece is also a member,” Petrov said.
“With UN Resolution 817, Macedonia only accepted as an obligation to talk with Greece about the differences regarding its name, nothing more than that, but certainly not to negotiate a change of its name,” he added.
Following the ICJ verdict, Petrov said, the WMC continues to encourage the Macedonian government “immediately and unconditionally to submit a resolution in the UN General Assembly for continuing membership under the only state name, Macedonia, with the possibility to use the constitutional addition ‘Republic of’.”