Bulgarian parliament poised to solve North Macedonia conundrum

A screenshot from the session of the foreign affairs committee of the Bulgarian parliament on 23 June 2022. [Dnevnik, partner of EURACTIV Bulgaria]

The foreign affairs committee of the Bulgarian parliament on Thursday (23 June) passed a draft decision approving the French Presidency compromise for Sofia to lift its veto on Skopje to start accession talks, paving the way for the text potentially being approved in plenary on Friday.

After a four-hour session, the foreign affairs committee backed a draft decision submitted by Hristo Ivanov, leader of the party Democratic Bulgaria (DB), with 11 of its 17 members voting in favour.

Democratic Bulgaria is a small centre-right force, part of the government coalition of Kiril Petkov.

Two other proposals, by Boyko Borissov’s GERB party and by the Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS) did not gather support and efforts to put together a consolidated version of the three texts also failed.

Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska said Bulgaria should not miss the chance to achieve a solution based on the French Presidency proposal, which links the steps to improving bilateral relations with the EU accession talks under EU Commission supervision.

The DB text states that the Bulgarians should be included in the constitution of North Macedonia, on an equal footing with the other peoples already mentioned in the country’s constitution. It also states that nothing in the process of European integration of North Macedonia can be interpreted as a recognition by the Bulgarian side that there is a “Macedonian language”. Another text says that good neighbourliness will be a criterion Skopje should systematically fulfil.

The press service of  Petkov’s party “We continue the change”, announced later that the draft decision would be considered on Friday in the plenary sitting of parliament.

Reportedly, the opposition GERB and DPS are not expected to create obstacles with the quorum – the two formations had promised not to boycott the parliamentary sittings if the deputies start resolving the dispute with North Macedonia.

The socialists from BSP, a coalition partner of Petkov, appear to back the DB proposal, having rejected the texts by GERB and DPS. However, their position is not clear.

Socialist MP Georgi Mihailov said he does not accept that such a complex issue is “pushed through with extreme persistence”.

Slavi Trifonov’s ‘There is such a people’, which left the governing coalition, throwing the country into political chaos, as well as the pro-Russian parliamentarian force Vazrazhdane (Reviaval), are strongly against the DB text.

Toshko Yordanov, leading MP from ‘There is such a people’, made reference to the “red lines” stated by the Prime Minister of North Macedonia Dimitar Kovachevski on Thursday at the Western Balkans summit and the rejection by Skopje of the French compromise, saying that they render the vote in the Bulgarian parliament meaningless.

French mediation attempt infuriates MPs in Skopje

The French presidency’s proposal aimed at lifting the Bulgarian veto shook the Macedonian government after three small parties threatened to leave if the cabinet approved a draft sent to the Bulgarian parliament to end the dispute between Skopje and Sofia.

Even without the votes of ‘There is such a people’, Vazrazhdane and BSP, the DB text could pass.

The project submitted by Hristo Ivanov, which underwent minor adjustments during the discussions, is, therefore, to be voted in plenary on Friday.

The vote will coincide with the second day of the European Council. It could allow to include texts in the summit conclusions opening the way for North Macedonia and Albania to start accession talks.

On Thursday, outgoing Prime Minister Kiril Petkov told journalists and EU leaders that lifting the veto is possible only with a decision of the National Assembly.

Bulgarian PM hints at chance to lift the veto, after summit

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said on Thursday (23 June) there was no chance Bulgaria would lift its veto on North Macedonia during this EU summit but hinted a solution could be imminent in the coming days.

This article is based on coverage by SEGA and Dnevnik, the EURACTIV Bulgaria partner media. 

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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