Assession support under conditions

Bulgaria sets certain requirements and criteria to let North Macedonia get a date to start EU entry talks

Bulgaria's PM Boyko Borissov (R) North Macedonia's PM Zoran Zaev (L) during a celebration of the anniversary of the friendship treaty this summer.

Bulgaria's continued support for Skopje's EU accession bid depends on whether North Macedonia stands by its obligations under the already signed treaty on mutual relations between the two countries, Bulgarian leaders agreed last Monday at a consultative meeting in Sofia held by President Rumen Radev. According to Radev, North Macedonia cannot make progress towards the EU at the expense of Bulgarian interests, insisting there are red lines that can not be crossed. Skopje hopes to get a date to start accession talks in the coming weeks.

Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov agreed that Sofia's support for North Macedonia's EU membership has never been unconditional and that the country must not waste the chance to get a date to start long-awaited accession talks this autumn. “Sofia wants North Macedonia to progress in its EU pre-accession negotiations, together with Albania. Our position is clear: it is important that they are accepted in the EU, but they must understand that this depends on them and cannot happen at our

expense by rewriting history,” he stated. “I have always said that we are one people. Let's accept that we are fraternal peoples. This fraternal war should not continue on the side of propaganda from Skopje, because we have no closer people, no one is closer to us,” he added.

Reacting to the Sofia meeting, North Macedonia's PM Zoran Zaev said that he hoped that both countries, which have set up a joint commission to settle open issues, can “very quickly” reach a solution. “We have signed a treaty with which we accepted we have a common history. Of course, part of it is different for the two countries. In that spirit, I believe the commission will find a solution,” Zaev said in Skopje.

The Monday's meeting was called by President Radev in order to review Bulgaria's position towards North Macedonia in light of the results achieved by the Joint Multidisciplinary Commission on Historical and Educational Issues (JMC) between the two countries and the expected invitation for North Macedonia to start negotiations on joining the EU. The meeting was attended by PM Boyko Borissov, Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov, MPs and JMC co-chair Prof. Angel Dimitrov.

Addressing the media after the meeting, President Radev said the participants agreed in principle on the need of urgent steps to come up with a national position with clear requirements and criteria that will protect Bulgaria's national interest. Those requirements and criteria should be enshrined in the negotiating framework and become a mandatory condition for North Macedonia's EU accession, Radev insisted.

Despite the huge efforts made by the Bulgarian side, the joint commission on historical and educational matters has not achieved any particular results. Things there have been very alarming recently, and North Macedonia's conduct also causes insecurity and mistrust, Radev said. Special attention should be paid to school curricula and syllabi, textbook texts, the inscriptions in museums and on memorial plaques, and the positions of the public media, he pointed out. Radev stressed the importance of laying down red lines which are to guarantee that North Macedonia's EU integration will not take place with the Bulgarian history, language and identity used as a bargaining chip. Clear-cut conditions should be set in advance and failure to meet them should stop the transition to the next stages of the negotiating process.

Bulgaria and North Macedonia signed a landmark friendship agreement on 1 August 2017. It was symbolicaly held a day before 2 August, celebrated as the anniversary of an anti-Ottoman revolt in Macedonia in 1903, known as the Ilinden uprising. Both countries honour the uprising as their own. A bitter dispute continues over whether leading figures in the then revolutionary movement, including Gotse Delchev, who is regarded as one of its masterminds, are to be considered Macedonian or Bulgarian. A joint commission comprised mainly of historians from both sides is working to tackle disagreements but so far it has reached almost no results.

Since the signing of the friendship treaty, Bulgaria has been a keen supporter of its neighbour's EU accession. But it is also upping the pressure for a solution to their disputes over history. Yet North Macedonia has to do more than appease Bulgarian concerns to win an accession talks date this autumn. It will also have to convince France and The Netherlands, who remain sceptical in general about EU enlargement.

More on this subject: EU accession

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