North Macedonia backs compromise plan with Bulgaria, paving way for EU membership – POLITICO

North Macedonia’s government said it backed a deal that would settle an ongoing dispute with Bulgaria and open the door to EU membership talks.

Socialist Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski met with junior government coalition partners on Friday to discuss a proposal by the outgoing French EU presidency aimed at overcoming a series of tensions between Sofia and Skopje over language, history and the rights of ethnic Bulgarians in North Macedonia.

Kovačevski said that « the proposal is seen as a solid basis for building a serious, responsible and ambitious position regarding the opportunity that is opening up for our country ».

According to a senior official in North Macedonia, the government will be able to move forward without parliamentary approval.

However, the French proposal sets conditions at the start of membership talks – and that means changes to the constitution are needed, which would require a two-thirds majority in parliament.

So the government can decide to start the accession process, including scrutiny by the European Commission – which is the preparation for the start of accession negotiations and usually takes about a year – and then deals with any changes constitutional.

Hristijan Mickoski, leader of the main opposition VMRO-DPMNE party, called the French proposal a « shame » and called for protests against the deal on Saturday. Former Foreign Minister Nikola Dimtrov also said he was against the deal because it requires changes to the constitution before the formal start of membership talks.

French President Emmanuel Macron hinted at a press conference at the NATO summit in Madrid on Thursday that a compromise was imminent, and said he was convinced « we have found a solution that suits the sensitivities of both parties. — although he didn’t provide specifics.

« Good news that North Macedonia and Bulgaria, with the support of France, are close to an agreement that takes into account interests and concerns, » said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. wrote on Twitterafter talking on the phone with Kovacevski.

« The European Commission is ready to launch the selection process for North Macedonia and Albania, the next step on their European path, » she wrote.

North Macedonia is one of the Western Balkan countries that has been waiting for years to join the EU, a situation that has angered many leaders in the region.

The European prospects of the Western Balkan countries have returned to the fore due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, which prompted Kyiv, along with neighboring Moldova and Georgia, to apply for EU membership. Ukraine and Moldova have obtained the status of candidate countries.

Albania’s bid for EU membership has been linked to North Macedonia, so progress on Skopje’s membership plan would also unlock Tirana’s EU bid.

Bulgaria last week overturned Sofia’s effective veto on the start of EU accession talks in North Macedonia by voting in favor of the French proposal.

Bulgaria, however, insisted on the need for proper constitutional protection for Bulgarians in North Macedonia and insisted that there would be no assumption that Sofia would recognize Macedonian as a separate language from Bulgarian.

Bulgaria’s reversal has made life difficult for North Macedonia’s prime minister, who last week called the French-led compromise « unacceptable ».

Kovačevski said a final version of the proposal, which was submitted this week, protected North Macedonia’s identity issues, including the Macedonian language, and promised the whole process would be transparent.

« The decision on our future will be taken jointly, in accordance with the strategic interests of the country and all citizens, » Kovačevski said.

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