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The Bulgarian Parliament voted on Friday in favor of lifting the veto on the opening of negotiations for North Macedonia’s accession to the European Union, a subject closely followed at the Twenty-Seven summit in Brussels.
The Bulgarian Parliament decided on Friday 24 June to lift the vote on the opening of negotiations for North Macedonia’s accession to the European Union, paving the way for an unblocking of the situation.
“The decision was adopted with 170 votes for, 37 votes against and 21 abstentions”, announced Atanas Atanasov, Deputy Speaker of Parliament, after the vote. It must now be endorsed by the outgoing government of pro-European Kiril Petkov, who said he was ready on Thursday to act “quickly”.
A diplomatic dispute
North Macedonia has been blocked since 2005 in the antechamber of the EU. Greece had first vetoed it until 2018, before Sofia blocked the dossier in 2020 amid long-standing historical and cultural disputes. Bulgaria had however been, in 1992, the first country to recognize the independence of its neighbor, during the break-up of the former communist Yugoslavia, but relations were subsequently strained.
Due to this dispute, negotiations with Albania are also at a standstill, the two candidacies being linked by the EU. It was the reversal of two Bulgarian opposition parties, including that of former Prime Minister Boïko Borissov, which enabled this vote in Parliament, in a context of mediation by France, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU.
According to the compromise on the table, Skopje must in particular commit to modifying its Constitution to include Bulgarians in the recognized ethnic groups and to “implement” a 2017 friendship treaty aimed at eradicating hate speech.
“It is in our interest to offer a perspective of EU membership of the completed Balkans”
During the debates preceding the vote, Hristo Ivanov, president of the democratic party Bulgaria at the initiative of the parliamentary motion, had called on the parties “not to miss this chance” to resolve the question before the end of the French presidency on June 30 . “At the end of the day, it’s in our interest to offer the prospect of EU membership in the Balkans eventually,” he stressed.
Several leaders of these countries had expressed Thursday their “dissatisfaction” and denounced the lack of “credibility” of the EU at the end of a summit in Brussels with the Twenty-Seven.
The war in Ukraine has brought the issue of EU enlargement to the Balkans back on the table, with increased geostrategic importance, and Western pressure for Sofia to lift its opposition has increased.
Despite the opposition of a large party of public opinion and several parties, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov has embarked on a strategy of rapprochement in recent months. However, the disputes remain numerous and deputies warned on Friday that new blockages could not be excluded if the discussions were to stumble.
According to the text approved on Friday, “nothing in the EU accession process can be interpreted as recognition by Bulgaria of the Macedonian language”, which Sofia considers a Bulgarian dialect.
Skopje also remains to be convinced: Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski ruled on Thursday that this compromise proposal “in its current form” was “unacceptable”.