North Macedonia signs a protocol with Bulgaria opening the way to the EU

North Macedonia signs a protocol with Bulgaria opening the way to the EU

An intergovernmental conference to officially launch the accession process for Skopje and Tirana will be organized “as soon as possible”.

The Bulgarian (left) and Macedonian (right) foreign ministers. Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP

Bulgaria and North Macedonia signed a bilateral protocol in Sofia on Sunday, the last step before the first intergovernmental meeting that will mark the start of EU negotiations with Skopje and Tirana. “It is a historic chance for us that North Macedonia is starting (accession) negotiations with the EU after 17 years with candidate status,” said Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, assured on Twitter that an intergovernmental conference to officially launch the accession process for Skopje and Tirana will be organized “as soon as possible”. “The protocol contains ambitious measures to resolve open bilateral issues,” said Bulgarian Foreign Minister Teodora Guenchovska.
A process that will take “months or years”

Skopje must in particular amend its constitution to register the Bulgarians among the recognized ethnic groups, a condition without which it will not be able to proceed to the opening of chapters of the accession negotiations, she specified. “This process can take months or years,” according to Teodora Guentchovska. Both Bulgaria and North Macedonia recently gave their backing to a compromise proposal initiated by France, which held the rotating presidency of the EU during the first half of 2022 and acted as mediator in this process.

The committee of permanent representatives of the 27 COREPERs will examine the proposed package on Monday in order to submit it to an intergovernmental conference which will be convened by the Czech Presidency, indicated Teodora Guentchovska.

North Macedonia has been blocked since 2005 in the antechamber of the EU. Greece had first vetoed it until 2018, before Sofia blocked the file in 2020 amid historical and cultural disputes. The Bulgarian position also prevented the launch of negotiations with Albania, whose candidacy is linked to that of Skopje by the EU. Unlike Skopje, Tirana can begin membership negotiations as soon as the intergovernmental conference is held, said Teodora Guentchovska.

Brussels insists on the enlargement of the EU in the Balkans, the strategic importance of the region having increased in the context of the war in Ukraine. Bulgaria lifted its veto on June 24 on the condition that the rights of Bulgarians in North Macedonia are respected and enshrined in the constitution. Sofia considers that the Slav inhabitants of North Macedonia are of Bulgarian origin and that their language is a dialect of Bulgarian. A commission of historians is struggling to agree on the affiliation of historical figures, writers and artists with a view to bringing school curricula into line in the two countries.

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