Skopje and the diplomatic vise

A few days ago the International Court of Justice at The Hague addressed the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia?s (FYROM) appeal against Athens, in which it accuses it of violating the interim agreement of 1995, which prohibits Greece from blocking FYROM?s accession to international organizations.

It is true that the former government of Costas Karamanlis had stated that it would exercise its veto at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, but in the end it was not necessary. FYROM was excluded following a collective agreement in the alliance and not because of a Greek veto.

We may remember that in early 2008, Athens tied the accession of the neighboring state to Euro-Atlantic institutions to a solution of the name dispute in order to force Skopje to reach a compromise.

The ?no accession without agreement? policy, however, is at odds with the interim agreement, which ended in 2002 but is still in effect because neither of the two sides had backed out. The veto may not have been ultimately necessary at Bucharest, but Karamanlis had been ready to exercise it.

If Greece had withdrawn from the interim agreement, Skopje would not have been able to take Greece to The Hague.

We underline that a withdrawal from the agreement would not have had any effect on negotiations over the name, given that these are held within the context of the Security Council agreement of 1993.

The Foreign Ministry has said that it is optimistic about the outcome of the trial. Why then has Greece risked turning a political disagreement into a legal battle when this could have been avoided? By not withdrawing from the interim agreement, the Karamanlis government left the back door open and George Papandreou?s current government has done nothing to close it either.

Because of disputes in the Aegean, recourse to The Hague has become something of a taboo subject in Greek diplomacy. This column warned in 2008 that by leaving Greece exposed to the risk of an unfavorable judicial outcome, the administrations of both Karamanlis and Papandreou may have committed a crime against the national interest through their neglect.

Some circles will see a negative outcome as a chance to put a swift end to the entire issue and this is what Skopje is banking on in order to slip out of the diplomatic vise in which the ?no accession without agreement? policy has trapped it.

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