By Stavros Lygeros
The fact that the government in Skopje has repeatedly breached the UN’s so-called interim agreement does not really constitute a strong legal argument for Athens before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – even less so given that the Greek government has not lodged any complaints.
The decision by the Karamanlis administration to set an agreement on the name as a condition for FYROM’s membership in NATO is a political one. It was a way of forcing Skopje to take negotiations seriously.
Athens didn’t have to exercise its veto at the Bucharest summit, but it may in the future. Skopje traditionally refuses the use of FYROM, its temporary name, so in Bucharest it did not officially ask to join NATO under that name. It will likely do so at the next meeting. This will force Athens to terminate the interim agreement.
The Greek government claims that it will present its arguments in court if it has to. But it has no reason to make its policy according to a legal ruling, even if it is the ICJ. If Athens was to accept a shift to the legal terrain, a negative ruling could prove quite a heavy blow. An unfavorable ruling would only be welcomed by those who deem that the name dispute is of secondary importance and who simply seek to settle the issue and move on. The interim agreement is effectively dead. But it is officially still in place because it has not been terminated.
This writer has in the past raised the issue, on the one hand because Skopje has repeatedly breached the agreement and, on the other, because Athens has gone for the veto option. If the government is still respecting the agreement, it’s due to a whim and not because it deems it is in its interest to do so. FYROM’s complaint is a blow to the negotiation process. If Greece fails to respond, it will give the impression that Nikola Gruevski can get away with such posturing. Terminating the interim agreement will not just solve a legal issue, it will also send a clear message to the world that Greece really means what it says and it will stand by it to the end.