Bulgaria blocks EU membership talks for North Macedonia

Bulgarian flag; Photo: Pixabay

BRUSSELS – Bulgaria refused to approve the EU’s negotiating framework for North Macedonia, thus blocking the official start of Skopje’s accession talks with the EU on Tuesday, FoNet reports.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zakharieva said that Sofia could not support the start of long-delayed EU-Skopje accession talks for now due to open disputes over history and language.

“Bulgaria cannot support the draft negotiating framework with North Macedonia and the holding of the first intergovernmental conference at this stage,” Zakharieva said after EU ministers discussed the issue at an online meeting.

EU member states agreed that North Macedonia and Albania could begin accession talks in March, and the official start of negotiations was expected during an intergovernmental conference in December.

Bulgaria has approved a negotiating framework for Albania.

Zaev: Bulgaria’s veto is a defeat for the EU

The Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev stated that the Bulgarian veto for his country for the start of accession negotiations is “the biggest defeat for the EU and a great injustice”, N1 reports.

Zaev stated that there is no other explanation for the Bulgarian move, but that he thinks that the reason for that is the proximity of the elections in Bulgaria, and pointed out that the talks between Skopje and Sofia are continuing.

The Prime Minister of North Macedonia pointed out that negotiations should be given a chance in the coming days and that there is still a possibility to reach an agreement during the German presidency.

He added that contacts between the two countries are continuing and that they are trying to find a solution, noting that the Macedonian national identity and language are not being negotiated.

“Today, we got a chance from the Council of Ministers to talk for some more time. I believe that there are chances for success and I believe that we will reach an agreement protecting all our national interests,” Zaev pointed out.

Roth: The negotiations will be continued with the mediation of the EU

German State Minister for Europe Michael Roth is convinced that German officials, as representatives of the German EU presidency, together with representatives of the European Commission, will resolve open issues before the end of the year due to which Bulgaria is blocking the start of accession negotiations with North Macedonia, which relate to the Macedonian language and the use of the abbreviated name of the Republic of North Macedonia, N1 reports.

Roth states that the negotiations will be continued with the mediation of the EU. He adds that a consensus was reached on the negotiating framework for Albania, but that Bulgaria had objections to the negotiating framework with North Macedonia, therefore no agreement was reached.

“We are trying to build a bridge between the two sides,” Roth said.

Roth states that the negotiations will be continued with the mediation of the EU. He adds that a consensus was reached on the negotiating framework for Albania, but that Bulgaria had objections to the negotiating framework with northern Macedonia, and no agreement was reached. “We are trying to build a bridge between the two sides,” Roth said.

He added that all 27 EU member states must reach an agreement on all issues, in order for the negotiating framework to be adopted.

“The Western Balkans need a clear signal that we are on their side and that we will do our part if they fulfill their obligations,” Roth said.

Várhelyi: The first intergovernmental conferences should be held this year

The European Commissioner for Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi said at the General Affairs Council meeting that the first intergovernmental conferences with Albania and North Macedonia should be held this year.

Work should continue and it is important that negotiating frameworks with Albania and North Macedonia are agreed as soon as possible so first IGCs can be held this year. All need to continue the efforts to resolve the open issues. I am in contact with German presidency and all relevant parties in support of finding a solution”, wrote Várhelyi on his Twitter account. 

Pendarovski: Bulgaria’s demands go beyond the scope of the 2017 Friendship Treaty

The blockade of Bulgaria is just another in a series of obstacles that North Macedonia is facing on its path to the EU. In order to meet Greece’s demands, North Macedonia recently changed the name of the country and resolved a decade-long dispute that prevented its progress towards EU membership, Vijesti reports.

In October 2019, France vetoed the start of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania due to doubts about its performance in the field of democracy and the fight against corruption. The two countries had to wait until March this year to get the green light for negotiations.

Bulgaria demands that the negotiating framework contain guarantees that Skopje will fulfill the conditions from the Friendship Treaty between the two countries from 2017, which was one of the preconditions for Bulgaria not to veto.

The agreement addresses historical issues, including Bulgaria’s request to omit claims to the Macedonian identity of some historical figures from history textbooks in North Macedonia and guarantees that official EU documents avoid mentioning the “Macedonian language” that Sofia claims originated in Bulgarian.

The President of North Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski stated that Bulgaria’s demands exceed the scope of the 2017 Friendship Treaty.

“They affect issues of identity, which is not acceptable to us,” Pendarovski said, adding that the agreement was supposed to “separate historical from political issues” which “allows differences in history to be the subject of academic debate, not a dialogue between countries.”