Global Policy Forum

International Court of Justice Starts Hearings in FYR Macedonia v. Greece

A long-running dispute between Macedonia and Greece, ostensibly over the former’s use of the name Macedonia, has reached the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The issue before the Court is whether Greece acted illegally by blocking Macedonia from joining NATO in 2008. However, the origins of the dispute run deeper, with Greece asserting that the use of the name Macedonia is a territorial claim over a Greek region of the same name. The ICJ case will not determine the naming dispute, which is being mediated under the auspices of the UN.

March 22, 2011

FYR Macedonia begins its case at the ICJ, accusing Athens of a "blatant violation" of international law in blocking its bid to join NATO because of a long-running dispute over the former Yugoslav Republic's name, the same as that of a northern Greek province.

On Monday 21 March, the ICJ began hearings relating to the dispute between FYR Macedonia and Greece, relating to the Greek opposition to the Balkan state's membership of NATO due to its name.

FYR Macedonia filed a  lawsuit with the International Court of Justice in November 2008 claiming that Athens unilaterally broke a 1995 treaty and asking the court to order Greece "to cease and desist from objecting in any way, whether directly or indirectly, to (Macedonia's) membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation nor any other international multilateral and regional organisations and institutions of which (Greece) is a member". In the 1995 UN-brokered Interim Accord, which regulates relations between the two countries, Macedonia agreed to use a provisional name, "The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", in international organisations and, under Article 11 of the Accord, Greece agreed not to block Macedonia's integration into the European Union and NATO.

Macedonia was recognised by the United Nations in 1993 under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). More than 100 countries, including four permanent members of the UN Security Council, have recognised the Balkan state under its constitutional name: Republic of Macedonia.

Greece insists that the use of the name implies a claim on Greek territory and has argued that the ICJ has no jurisdiction to hear the case. The state further argues that Macedonia broke its side of the Accord by "stealing" Greek history in renaming airports, highways and sport arenas after Ancient Greek heroes.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Miloshoski told judges in an opening speech that "this case has been brought to ensure that the respondent upholds one of its key obligations", and was not an attempt to seek resolution of the name difference issue, which "remains the object of the mediation process under the auspices of the UN".

The British lawyer and professor Philippe Sands, representing Macedonia, told the judges that Macedonia's name never had been intended to portray "any territorial claim" to Greek territory. He added that the issue "is of eminent significance for the country's internal stability and regional well-being".

Professor Sean Murphy also represented Macedonian and, told the court of Greece's "aggressive", "vigorous" and "systematic" campaign to oppose Macedonia's membership of NATO in 2007 and 2008. A NATO communiqué issued after failed bid by Macedonia did not refer to a veto by Greece.

Both states will present their arguments to the 15-judge panel over five further days of hearings over the next two weeks, with Greece addressing the court on Thursday and Friday. The hearings finish on 30 March, when the judges will retire to consider their judgment, which is expected within the next six months.


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