For decades, the relations with Greece were exceptionally complex and delicate, burdened with the difference regarding the constitutional name of the Republic of Macedonia at the time the country proclaimed its sovereignty and independence on 17 September 1991. Putting forth the argument that adopting the constitutional name was a demonstration of irredentism, Greece imposed decades long international difference with the country, which was ultimately overcome with the signing of the Final Prespa Agreement on 17 June 2018 and with its consequent entry into force on 12 February 2019.
Consistently and continually, Greece founded its foreign policy and diplomatic activities on its arguments relating to the said difference regarding the constitutional name of the then Republic of Macedonia and related arguments over historical issues, while finding various ways to obstruct the process of international recognition of the country as an autonomous and independent international entity in the international relation setting, and especially by objecting to the country's integration in international organizations of which Greece was a member.
On 8 April 1993, the country was admitted to membership of the United Nations to be provisionally referred to as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” until the final settlement of the difference regarding the name, this being the result of the Greek objection to the membership application of the then Republic of Macedonia for fully–fledged United Nations membership under its constitutional name, as set forth in United Nations Security Council Resolution 817 (1993). The Secretary-General of the United Nations was charged with using his good offices to help resolve the dispute, which he did through his Personal Representative.
On 16 February 1994, Greece additionally intensified its pressure by introducing a bilateral trade and transit embargo against the then Republic of Macedonia. The embargo was in place until the conclusion of the Interim Accord on 13 September 1995, under which the two neighbouring countries established diplomatic relations at the level of Liaisons Offices and established a framework for the relationship pending resolution of the difference over the name. The Interim Accord, along with the additionally concluded Memoranda on practical measures (13 October 1995) on the opening of Liaison Offices in Skopje and in Athens respectively (1995) and for the opening of Offices for Consular, Economic and Trade Affairs in Bitola and in Thessaloniki, respectively (2004) made up the legal framework for pursuance of the overall bilateral relations between the two Parties until the entry into force of the Final Agreement (12 February 2019), which terminated the Interim Accord and established a firmer basis for the relationship of the two neighbors.
Owing to the Greek objection, which ran contrary to Article 11 of the Interim Accord, the country was not invited to accede to NATO membership at the 2008 Bucharest Summit, with the country applying for membership in the same manner as it had previously applied and had become member of other international organizations. Stating the argument that such objection by Greece is in violation of Article 11, para. 1 of the Interim Accord the then Republic of Macedonia instituted proceedings versus Greece before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. On 5 December 2011, the International Court of Justice adopted a Judgment in which it found that Greece, by objecting to the admission of the country to NATO, had breached its obligation under Article 11, paragraph 1 of the Interim Accord of 13 September 1995; the Court declared that there was no reason to suppose that a State whose act or conduct had been declared wrongful by the Court would repeat that act or conduct in the future, since its good faith must be presumed. However, the ICJ Judgment did not suffice to effectuate the country’s NATO membership.
In June 2015, the two countries reached an agreement on an initial set of confidence building measures, for opening the cooperation process in specific areas and for creating a climate favourable for eventually finding a possible solution to overcome the name difference.
The Final Agreement for the Settlement of the Differences as Described in the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 817 (1993) and 845 (1993), the Termination of the Interim Accord of 1995, and the Establishment of a Strategic Partnership Between the Parties was signed on 17 June 2018 and entered into force on 12 February 2019.
The Final Agreement helped overcome the decades long difference between the two neighbouring countries, confirming thus the good will of both countries to establish a new historic framework for strengthening their mutual trust, for building friendly relations, and for advancing good-neighbourliness, by pursuing comprehensive bilateral relations leading to their strategic partnership. The Final Agreement is based on principles embodied in major international instruments (the UN Charter, the OSCE Helsinki Final Act and principles set forth in Council of Europe documents), while the peaceful settlement of the decades long difference sets a true example of respect for the fundamental principles set forth under Articles 1 and 2 of the UN Charter, being also a demonstration of the success of the two countries’ diplomacies. Thus, the Final Agreement makes a direct and lasting contribution to the peace, stability and advancement of good-neighbourliness in the Region of Southeast Europe and encourages the finding of new favourable solutions to settle other open issues.
The Final Agreement is a demonstration of a wise, courageous and responsible policy, a policy of leadership with a vision turned towards the future, while protecting key national interests of both Parties to the Final Agreement.
According to the Constitutional Amendments, as agreed under the Final Agreement, a geographic qualifier (“North”) was added before the term “Macedonia”, and the national identity features are protected, in compliance with the right to self-determination, i.e. Macedonian people, Macedonian language, etc. Thus, the constitutional name of the country is "Republic of North Macedonia", while the short name is “North Macedonia". The nationality, as it will be registered in all travel documents, is Macedonian/citizen of the Republic of North Macedonia. The official language is the “Macedonian language”. The country codes for all purposes remain MK and MKD, as officially assigned by the International Organization for Standardization (“ISO”), except for the country codes for the license plates that shall be NMK.
Following the entry into force of the Final Agreement, the diplomatic relations between the two countries were upgraded to the Ambassadorial level, with the Liaison Offices in Skopje and Athens being upgraded to the level of Embassies, while the Offices for Consular, Economic and Trade Affairs in Bitola and in Thessaloniki were upgraded to the level of Consulates General.
The consistent good-faith implementation of the Final Agreement by North Macedonia and Greece leads to the establishment of strategic partnership relations and good-neighbourly cooperation in all areas of mutual interest, and entails strong support of Greece to the fully-fledged European and Euro-Atlantic integration of North Macedonia. In fact, the entry into force of the Final Agreement was conditioned by the ratification of North Macedonia’s NATO Ratification Protocol by Greece, while some aspects of the implementation of the Final Agreement is legally linked also to the progress of North Macedonia in its European integration. Thus, the Final Agreement will stand the test of time, being regarded as a substantive document contributing towards regional security and cooperation.