Hearings in the lawsuit lodged by Macedonia against Greece over its alleged violation of a 1995 interim agreement between the two nations opened at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday (March 21st).
Macedonia filed the suit at The Hague-based top UN court back in November 2008 after Greece blocked its NATO entry bid during the Alliance’s summit in Bucharest in April the same year, insisting the long-standing name dispute between the two should first be resolved.
In the complaint it submitted to the ICJ, Skopje called that move “a flagrant violation” of the provisions of Article 11 of the September 1995 interim accord between the two countries. That article stipulates that Greece “agrees not to object” to Macedonia’s membership in international organisations and institutions that refer to it as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia .
That is the provisional reference under which Macedonia was admitted to the UN in 1993 and is still used by Greece in reference to its northern neighbour. Athens refuses to recognise the former Yugoslav republic by its constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia, for fear this could imply potential territorial claims against the province of Macedonia in northern Greece.
In an opening speech at the ICJ , Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki told UN judges that his country is not seeking a resolution of its name dispute with Greece, which “remains the object of” a UN-mediated negotiation process.
The sole purpose of bringing the case before court is “to ensure that the respondent upholds one of its key obligations” under the 1995 accord, the minister stressed.
“We are sincerely sorry for this attitude of the respondent and hope for the Court to help both parties to return to the frames of the system, established by the interim accord,” Macedonian state-run news agency MIA quoted Milososki as saying. “It will enable us to resume our activities for joining NATO and the European Union — a goal we have been committed to since 1993 and one that is rather important for the internal stability of Macedonia’s multi-ethnic, democratic society.”
He also noted that Macedonia has been contributing to NATO efforts in Afghanistan since 2002, roughly six years before Greece’s decision to veto an invitation for the country to join the Alliance as a full-fledged member, along with Albania and Croatia.
Addressing the court Monday, British lawyer and professor Philippe Sands, a member of the team representing Macedonia, said the name of the former Yugoslav republic had never been intended to portray “any territorial claim”. But, the issue was of critical importance for its “internal stability and regional well-being”, he added.
The team representing Macedonia includes three other law professors from Washington, Brussels and Sorbonne, as well as two from the Faculty of Law in Skopje.
According to the schedule of hearings, Macedonia is due to wrap up its arguments on Tuesday (March 22nd). The judges will then hear Greece’s arguments during a two-day hearing opening Thursday.
The second round of oral presentations will open on March 28th and will end two days later with Greece’s closing remarks.
The ICJ is then expected to issue its ruling within the next six months.