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Macron attempts to mediate dispute between Skopje and Sofia, which faces further challenges

Emmanuel Macron; Photo: European Union

PARIS / SKOPJE / SOFIA – President of France Emmanuel Macron spoke last evening with the Bulgarian President Rumen Radev and with the Prime Minister of the Republic of North Macedonia Dimitar Kovačevski. The discussion took place as a part of the efforts led by the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union to support the search for a solution to the dispute between the two countries, a press release of the French President reads.

Bulgaria has been blocking the first intergovernmental conferences with North Macedonia and Albania since 2020. As in previous years, the June meeting of the General Affairs Council is set to decide on the progress of EU candidate countries in their accession processes. Unanimity is needed for any decision.

France, which is regarded as one of the EU Member States most skeptical of enlargement, has nevertheless supported the next step for Skopje and Tirana, where disillusionment with the accession process is growing.

According to the press release, Macron expressed his full support for an agreement between the two countries, which would contribute to good neighborly relations and respect for the fundamental rights of citizens declaring that they belong to other communities or to minorities.

He also expressed his readiness to welcome to Paris, when the time comes, the authorities of Bulgaria and North Macedonia with a view to concluding their bilateral agreement.

Earlier on Monday afternoon, Prime Minister of North Macedonia Dimitar Kovacevski rejected the speculations that the open issues with Bulgaria were resolved behind closed doors and stressed that the talks continue at the level of foreign ministries, which was confirmed during the weekend with ministerial meetings in Skopje.

“As soon as there is a solution that is acceptable to both parties, which is based on European values, which preserves the dignity of the citizens of both countries and will be acceptable to both parties, it can be shared with the institutions,” Kovačevski said, Government’s press release reads.

Prime Minister Kovačevski expressed his firm conviction that President Macron and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are committed to putting this issue high on the agenda of the French presidency of the EU.

“Within their competencies and capacity, they are helping to facilitate the talks between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Northern Macedonia, but there is no concrete proposal”, said Kovačevski.

Meanwhile, the office of the President of Bulgaria Rumen Radev stated in a press release yesterday that he had had a telephone conversation with US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried, with the European perspective of the Republic of North Macedonia being one of the topics of the conversation.

The press release highlighted the case of the setting of the Bulgarian Cultural Center “Ivan Mihailov” in Bitola on fire. Both Donfried and Radev condemned the act.

“According to the head of state of Bulgaria, the arson of the Culture Centre of Macedonian Bulgarians in Bitola was carried out by people who seek to keep the Republic of North Macedonia in the shadow of Yugoslavia’s totalitarian past and hinder the process of European integration”, the press release reads.

The Culture Centre was opened in April this year in the presence of the highest Bulgarian officials, including Prime Minister Kiril Petkov. It was named after Ivan Mihailov, a controversial 20th-century nationalist movement leader who became a Nazi collaborator, and has been criticised as a threat to ongoing attempts to achieve a breakthrough in the two countries’ dispute over history, Balkan Insight reported.

On Saturday, 4 June, the Culture Centre was set on fire. On Tuesday, a man was arrested after admitting his responsibility for the fire, Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski wrote on Facebook.

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