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Bulgarian parliament votes to lift veto on EU accession talks with North Macedonia

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The Bulgarian parliament on Friday approved the lifting of the country’s veto over opening EU accession talks with North Macedonia, an issue high on the agenda of an ongoing EU summit in Brussels.

“The decision was passed with 170 votes in favour, 37 against and 21 abstentions,” parliament speaker Atanas Atanasov said after the vote.

The proposal paves the way for the government to unblock the start of negotiations in exchange for EU guarantees that North Macedonia will comply with Bulgaria’s demands on long-running historical and linguistic disputes.

The decision says North Macedonia must include Bulgarians in its constitution “on an equal footing with other peoples”, sign a bilateral protocol and “effectively implement a 2017 Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighborhood and Cooperation”, ending it of hate speech.

“Ultimately, it is in our interest that the Western Balkans, North Macedonia and Albania have prospects of joining the EU,” said Hristo Ivanov, co-chair of the right-wing Democratic party Bulgaria who proposed the motion. during the debate.

“Today’s decision allows us to link our demands to fundamental European values ​​and standards,” he added, urging the parties to “don’t miss this good opportunity” to resolve the issue before it French EU presidency ends on June 30.

“Know that we are doing the right thing… The strongest tool to exert pressure is the negotiation process itself,” Ivanov said, adding that Bulgaria will be better able to defend its interests during the talks.

Proposal ‘unacceptable’

Bulgaria was the first country to recognize its neighbor’s independence after North Macedonia broke away from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

But Sofia has thwarted Skopje’s ambition to start membership talks since 2020.

France has tried to mediate between the two countries and offered a proposal, because Brussels feared that the lack of progress for the Balkans could bring the region closer to Russia and China.

Faced with mounting pressure from his EU partners and lack of support from public opinion at home, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said he was in favor of a compromise, while insisting that his government get the go-ahead from parliament to approve the lifting of the veto.

Petkov’s rapprochement with Skopje was one of the reasons the anti-establishment ITN party withdrew from the ruling coalition earlier this month, leading to the fall of his cabinet.

However, a change of stance from the conservative opposition party GERB, whose government vetoed it in 2020, and the support of Turkey’s minority opposition party MRF made the resolution possible.

Both parties voted in favor of the proposal, while the nationalist Vazrazhdane and anti-establishment ITN parties rejected and voted against it. The socialist BSP party abstained.

Petkov said late in Brussels on Thursday that the lifting of the veto “can be approved (by the government) as soon as possible” after parliament has been given the green light.

However, the change will only bring North Macedonia one small step closer to joining the EU, as Bulgarian MPs pledged on Friday to defend the unresolved issues during the negotiation process – and be ready to impose new blockades if necessary.

In particular, Parliament’s decision on Friday stressed that “nothing in North Macedonia’s EU accession process can be interpreted as recognizing Bulgaria of the existence of a ‘Macedonian language'”, which Sofia considers to be of Bulgarian origin. dialect.

North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski also poured cold water on hopes for a solution, saying the proposal was “unacceptable…in its current form”.


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