The Bulgarian Parliament on Friday approved the lifting of the country’s veto on opening EU accession talks with North Macedonia, an issue that is high on the agenda of the current EU summit in Brussels.
“The decision is adopted with 170 votes in favor, 37 against and 21 abstentions,” said the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Atanas Atanasov, after the vote.
The proposal paves the way for the government to unblock the start of negotiations in exchange for the EU guaranteeing that North Macedonia will meet Bulgaria’s demands regarding long-standing historical and linguistic conflicts.
The decision says that North Macedonia must include Bulgarians in its constitution “on an equal footing with other peoples”, sign a bilateral protocol and “effectively implement” a 2017 treaty of friendship, good neighborliness and cooperation, ending the hate speech.
“Ultimately, it is in our interest that the Western Balkans, that North Macedonia and Albania, receive an EU accession perspective,” Hristo Ivanov, co-chair of the right-wing Democratic Bulgaria party that proposed the motion, said during the debate.
“Today’s decision allows us to link our demands with fundamental European values and norms,” he added, urging the parties “not to miss this good opportunity” to resolve the issue before the French EU presidency ends on 30 May. of June.
“Know that we are doing the right thing… The strongest instrument of pressure is the negotiation process itself,” Ivanov said, adding that Bulgaria will be better able to defend its interests during the talks.
Bulgaria was the first country to recognize its neighbor’s independence after North Macedonia broke away from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
But Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, has hampered the ambition of Skopje, the Macedonian capital, to start accession talks as early as 2020.
France has tried to mediate between the two countries and has offered a proposal, as Brussels is concerned that the lack of progress for the Balkans could bring the region closer to Russia and China.
Faced with growing pressure from his EU partners and the lack of support from public opinion in his country, the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Kiril Petkov, was in favor of a compromise, although he insisted that his government should receive the green light from Parliament to approve the lifting of the veto.
Petkov’s policy of rapprochement towards Skopje was one of the reasons why the anti-establishment ITN party withdrew from the ruling coalition earlier this month, leading to the fall of his cabinet.
However, a change in position from the conservative opposition party GERB, whose government imposed the veto in 2020, and the backing of the minority Turkish opposition party MRF made the resolution possible.
Both parties voted in favor of the proposal, while the nationalist Vazrazhdane and anti-establishment ITN parties criticized it and voted against it. The socialist party BSP abstained.
Petkov: “the lifting of the veto could be approved as quickly as
Petkov declared late on Thursday in Brussels that the lifting of the veto “could be approved (by the government) as quickly as possible” after the parliament gets the green light.
However, the change will only bring North Macedonia one step closer to EU membership, as Bulgarian lawmakers vowed on Friday to uphold outstanding issues during the negotiation process, and stand ready to impose new blockades if necessary.
Parliament’s decision this Friday particularly insisted that “nothing in North Macedonia’s EU accession process can be interpreted as recognition by Bulgaria of the existence of a ‘Macedonian language’, which Sofia considers to originate from a Bulgarian dialect.
North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski also poured cold water on hopes for a solution, saying the proposal was “unacceptable…in its current form.”
*With AFP; adapted from its English version
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