Bulgaria maintained its firm position not to allow the opening of EU accession talks with North Macedonia at the EU General Affairs Council (GAC) on June 22nd. This means that the progress of the accession candidate Albania will also be blocked, as the two have been linked in the process and are unlikely to be decoupled.
The Bulgarian position was reaffirmed at the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg ahead of the 24-25 June European Council which will re-examine the issue of EU enlargement. According to diplomatic sources, the presence of a transitional government in Sofia and the upcoming parliamentary elections in Bulgaria in July complicate the problem of the Bulgarian veto imposed by the previous government.
Following the meeting, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry announced in a statement that during the GAC meeting the country reiterated its position on the EU perspective of North Macedonia and at the same time was open to a constructive dialogue with the upcoming Slovenian EU Council Presidency on the search for amicable solutions for Skopje.
Bulgaria was represented at the meeting by Deputy Foreign Minister Rumen Alexandrov. “Bulgaria is continuing its consultations with Skopje on the implementation of the friendship treaty. We are approaching the matter constructively and in good faith, but we expect North Macedonia to begin putting into practice the commitments made at the high-level meeting in Sofia on June 17, which will enable us to move in a positive direction “, said Alexandrov.
He stated that this was the express rejection of territorial, minority and historical claims in relation to Bulgaria by North Macedonia, the modification of inscriptions and monuments that incite hatred against Bulgaria, and the initiation of a rehabilitation process for what he called “Victims of the Yugoslav communist regime” who claim to be Bulgarians. North Macedonia, formerly known as Macedonia, is one of the six former Yugoslav republics.
Sofia also insists that the implementation of the 2017 friendship treaty between Bulgaria and North Macedonia must be one of the conditions in the future negotiating framework with Skopje.
At the same time, Bulgaria praised Albania’s achievements in the reform process and reiterated its support for adopting the country’s negotiating framework.
The North Macedonian news agency MIA reported, citing diplomatic sources, that the Bulgarian minister had argued at the meeting that the Bulgarian problem with Skopje was a European problem and that the EU did not understand the depth of the matter.
According to EU diplomats, given Bulgaria’s firm stance, there are no guarantees that Sofia will withdraw its veto after the election. Currently, polls have vetoed Boyko Borissov’s Gerb, whose previous government vetoed it, head-to-head with political newcomer Slavi Trifonov’s political vehicle, There Are Such People.
The biggest supporter for the start of EU accession talks with Skopje was Germany, which insisted that North Macedonia and Albania must be held together in the integration process.
The German European Minister Michael Roth said in a tweet that it was unacceptable that bilateral issues hinder important decisions such as the start of the EU accession negotiations.
“Let bilateral matters be dealt with bilaterally without preventing the whole EU from moving forward. Let us think strategically and see the need to fulfill our commitments to Albania and North Macedonia. Now we have no interest in leaving a strategic vacuum there. Thank you, ”said Roth in a tweet.
North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani was quoted by MIA as saying that the chance for the country to get a date to start EU accession talks was “only theoretical” due to the complex political situation in Bulgaria.
Osmani said that currently only Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has a mandate and the ability to lift the veto, which means that the decision will be made at the EU summit on May 24-25. June could be taken.
“I hope Bulgaria will use the remaining days to reflect on our honest approach and address the differences that divide us,” said Osmani.
After meeting Osmani in Skopje, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said she was disappointed that North Macedonia would not start EU accession talks and called for strong diplomatic pressure to break the Bulgarian blockade.
Regarding Albania, EU Ambassador to Tirana, Luigi Soreca, was quoted by the Albanian Daily News as saying it was the first time that all EU member states have supported the opening of EU accession talks with Albania, including countries like the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark, which have been skeptical in the past.
“Member States have a clear intention of bringing the two counties together because the regional dimension of enlargement is very important,” Soreca was quoted as saying, adding that the bloc “may need some more time” to discuss North Macedonia.
Soreca noted that decoupling is not very likely as the EU wants to move both countries forward together.
“If there is no breakthrough, it is very important not to waste time making sure that this year is the year of the Western Balkans under the Slovenian Presidency, which starts in a few days [on July 1]“Soreca told the Alban Daily News. He added that the Western Balkans Summit in Slovenia in early October will be a very important event.
The President of North Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski said on June 22nd that the main problem facing the EU is decision-making policy that requires consensus, and that without changing this, the EU cannot be a key geopolitical actor.
Regarding the Bulgarian veto, Pendarovski said that if the price of joining the EU is for the country to lose its national identity, it doesn’t need the EU.
In the run-up to the Slovenian EU Council Presidency, Slovenian Foreign Minister Anze Logar was quoted by Euractiv as saying that the EU had to move “as soon as possible” from a wait-and-see approach to a problem-solving strategy in dealing with enlargement and the Western Balkans.
“In recent years the EU’s strategy towards the Western Balkans has been a wait and see approach, with the bloc not being too active in the region in the face of a reform backlog,” Logar said, admitting that over the past decade, enlargement is “by fallen on the EU agenda ”.
North Macedonia has been a candidate country since 2005 and Albania since 2014. North Macedonia, previously known only as Macedonia, changed its name as part of the Prespa naming agreement of 2018 with Greece in order to free the Euro-Atlantic integration processes.
The country became part of NATO in 2020, but faced another blockade in late 2020 when Bulgaria vetoed its neighbor’s EU integration process over linguistic and historical issues.
Both Greece and Bulgaria have parts of Macedonian territory that they annexed in 1913 with Macedonian minorities never recognized by the two countries.