Western Balkans come one step closer to EU accession — Analysis

On Friday, the Bulgarian parliament voted to lift the veto on North Macedonia’s EU accession talks, leaving a ball on Skopje’s side.

Following Thursday’s summit between 27 EU leaders and six heads of government from the Western Balkans, the removal of the veto, related to a longstanding cultural and linguistic dispute between Sofia and Skopje, was supported by 170 Bulgarian MPs, with 37 voting against and 21 abstaining.

The decision was hailed as a “Historic” one by Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov. On Twitter, Petkov confirmed that the parliament had approved a compromise French proposal. He also stated that the prime minister would not be able to accept a compromise proposal from France. “integration of the Western Balkans is the strategic interest of the EU.”

The country’s Foreign Ministry was also quick to respond to the news by saying that Sofia had not “added any new requests to Skopje”Upon signing the bilateral protocol, North Macedonia was ready to accept the holding of the first intergovernmental political conference.

EU faces internal row over admission process – media

According to parliament’s decision, nothing in North Macedonia’s EU accession process could “be interpreted as recognition of ‘Macedonian language’ by Bulgaria.” Sofia also reserved the right to block Skopje’s EU bid talks in the future, if necessary.

The French-brokered North Macedonia proposal must be approved by the North Macedonian Parliament before the veto may actually be lifted.

However, on Thursday, North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski said that “In its current state” the proposal was “unacceptable” for his country.

Bulgaria was forced to veto the EU’s 2020 negotiations when North Macedonia and Albania, both EU candidates since 2005, began their talks with the EU. Sofia wants Skopje to officially recognize that its language and culture are essentially Bulgarian, to drop any anti-Bulgarian stance and to mention a Bulgarian minority in the country’s constitution. North Macedonia is refusing to meet those requirements, declaring that it has no national identity. 

Since the accession process can proceed only under unanimous support, Bulgaria’s opposition effectively put a veto on the talks, which in turn put a halt to talks for Albania, since it is next in line after North Macedonia.

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