In Sofia, Germany’s Scholz pushes North Macedonia’s EU prospects – The Sofia Globe

After talks in Sofia with the Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov on June 11, Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke emphatically for an agreement that provides for the start of EU accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

Scholz, who arrived in the Bulgarian capital earlier in the day after visiting Skopje as part of a whirlwind tour of the Balkans, spoke to Petkov about the war in Ukraine and reducing energy dependency on Russia.

Progress in the EU accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania is a priority for the German Chancellor, and Scholz hopes to make progress before the end of the French EU Council Presidency at the end of June 2022.

Bulgaria stands in the way of opening accession talks with North Macedonia until the stated conditions are met, while the issue is so contentious within the Bulgarian ruling majority that it was this week dubbed by the ITN party as one of its pretexts to leave that coalition. Petkov’s critics have repeatedly claimed that he plans to overturn Bulgaria‘s veto over North Macedonia’s EU accession talks, a claim he has also repeatedly denied.

Scholz said at a press conference after his conversation with Petkov: “Germany understands that it is not easy to overcome historical differences between neighboring countries, but our experience shows that it is enriching for everyone when it comes to overcoming distrust and build friendly relations with neighbors.

“I therefore strongly support an agreement to start negotiations. I believe there is a chance for progress,” said Scholz.

“We will continue the discussion and exchanges between us until the end of the French [EU] Presidency and I hope that we will make progress. I am convinced that we Europeans have a collective responsibility for the EU and the stability of the Balkans, and it is important that we now use the enlargement process for the benefit of Europe,” he said.

Scholz said 20 years had passed since the Thessaloniki Agenda, which includes the European integration of the countries of the Western Balkans.

“We thought this process would be completed within 10 years, but that’s long gone. Our job is to make progress,” he said.

Petkov said Bulgaria and Germany had always looked to the Western Balkans for EU accession.

He said the Bulgarian government has clearly expressed its position on the conditions that need to be met for North Macedonia’s European integration to proceed.

Among those conditions was the recognition of a Bulgarian minority in North Macedonia’s constitution so that their rights could be protected.

Another priority for the Bulgarian government is the implementation of the Good Neighborhood Agreement, with an end to hate speech against Bulgaria and an end to disputes over common history.

“Bulgaria has three main priorities where the EU needs to be part of the guarantees so that we can move forward – through the European process to ensure the incorporation of Bulgarians into the constitution of North Macedonia,” Petkov said.

“At the same time, we have a framework position and an agreement on good neighborliness. Therefore, any decision must include these three priorities,” he said.

“The EU can offer potential opportunities to get European guarantees for that, so we as a government continue to work within the existing framework position and the Good Neighborhood Agreement,” Petkov said.

Scholz, who met North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski in Skopje on June 11, told Kovačevski the country was ready to start talks on EU membership.

Kovačevski said Skopje wanted bilateral disputes to be settled, but expressed doubts about Sofia’s willingness to do so.

“One of the prerequisites for successful negotiations is that the negotiating countries have confidence in the process. We are the country that wants a solution. The Republic of Bulgaria must also be ready for this. There is a big difference between us and the Republic of Bulgaria,” said Kovačevski, according to a report by Bulgarian National Radio.

According to Kovačevski, the issue has become the subject of internal political disputes in Bulgaria and no predictions are possible.

(Photos: Government.bg)

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