Sofia vetoes Skopje’s EU accession talks kick-off

Bulgaria wants all its three conditions to be included in the negotiating framework as to greenlight the process

Photo: EU Michael Roth.

Enlargement was one of the items on the agenda during the video conference of European affairs ministers on 17 November. As expected, Sofia followed a firm line and did not give Skopje the long-awaited greenlight to start EU accession talks.

The German Presidency informed ministers about the state of play of the discussions on the general EU position and the procedures for accession negotiations in relation to North Macedonia and Albania. A negotiating framework is required as to formally open accession talks with a candidate country. Bulgaria insisted steadfastly on three conditions to be included in the negotiating framework, namely that North Macedonia does not have any territorial, linguistic or minority claims, but this was not fulfilled.

At this point in time, Bulgaria does not consider that North Macedonia is ready its negotiating framework to be approved and there is an explicit position of the European Council on the accurate implementation of the Treaty of Friendship and Good-neighbourliness between Bulgaria and North Macedonia. This was highlighted by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva, in an interview to BNT, cited by Monitor News Agency.

We will not support a negotiating framework and the start of negotiations for the accession of North Macedonia to the EU unless we see our concerns included in the negotiating framework, she explained.

At the news conference following the meeting, Michael Roth, Germany's Minister of State for Europe said that with Albania the criteria for signing the negotiating framework is met, but not with North Macedonia, because there are some open questions from Bulgarian point of view. They have to be clarified so that is indispensable for accession negotiations to take place.

“We want to be helpful and we want to clear the path as much as possible, so that we can start on these intergovernmental conferences”, Minister Roth urged. The intergovernmental conferences were initially foreseen to take place in December.

The minister also specified that if the bilateral issues cannot be resolved in the upcoming weeks, it is not the time to refer that topic to the European Council level.

We want to send the right signal both towards Western Balkans and North Macedonia and Albania, the German minister said noting that “they have already done a lot they have their claims” and want to be part of the European community. “It is a long path, difficult path but it has to start really with actual negotiations”, he stated.

Minister Roth recalled that last week the German Presidency has tried to bring positions closer together “but we haven’t yet managed to convince our Bulgarian friends to agree on the negotiating framework”. We are trying to build bridges and I am very glad that both sides are continuing to talk, he pointed out adding that still a compromise can be reached in a few days and weeks that remain till the end of German Presidency. It is not in our hands alone but the message from the European affairs ministers was more than clear today, he outlined.

Now the efforts needs to be redoubled so the issues raised by Bulgaria in relation to North Macedonia can be resolved and agreement on the negotiating frameworks can be found, EC Vice-President on Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight Maroš Šefčovič, stressed. We felt we are in a final stretch towards an agreement on the two negotiating frameworks putting accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia firmly on track, he said underlining that the Commission wants the intergovernmental conferences to take place as soon as possible.

He said as well that the EU executive would stay in close contact with the German Presidency to support these efforts. This would be a strong signal to the entire region that enlargement process works and delivers results. This message is even more important under the current situation which has put equally significant strain on the whole system and the economies of the Western Balkan, he said.

In a tweet Olivér Várhelyi, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, urged that it is important to reach agreement about the negotiating frameworks with Albania and North Macedonia as soon as possible so first intergovernmental conferences can be held this year. All need to continue the efforts to resolve the open issues, he emphasised.

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