The implementation of the name-change deal between Greece and North Macedonia (Prespa agreement) as well as a friendship agreement between Sofia and Skopje should continue to be implemented in “good faith”, an EU spokesperson told EURACTIV.
“The Prespa agreement, together with the Treaty on Good Neighbourly Relations with Bulgaria, set a positive example for the region and beyond,” Ana Pisonero said.
“It is important that these bilateral agreements continue to be implemented in good faith,” she emphasised.
The two agreements, both signed in 2018, were described as historic as they ended long-standing rows in the Balkan region.
Under the Prespa Agreement, the former Yugoslav republic accepted to add the word “north” in its name ending a three-decade-long dispute with Greece, whose northern region is also called “Macedonia”.
In the case of Bulgaria, the friendship deal provided a joint committee tasked with finding a solution to bilateral historical issues. This committee however has not met for one full year, Skopje having used as an excuse the election situation in the country.
The deals also paved the way for North Macedonia to join NATO last March and revive the country’s EU talks.
North Macedonia is now a candidate country for accession in the EU. In March, Brussels gave its green light to start formal accession talks, but Skopje is still waiting for an official date.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said on Tuesday (7 October) during a visit in Skopje that these talks could start even during Germany’s EU presidency, before the end of the year.
However, the practical implementation of the two agreements faces several political difficulties in both Greece and Bulgaria due to some right-wing factions in the governments, which could again block North Macedonia’s EU path.
Both Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borissov are in a difficult position, as they rely politically on these right-wing factions to remain in power.
Greece: Opposition in the government
When New Democracy (EPP), Greece’s ruling conservative party, was in opposition, it firmly opposed the Prespa Agreement, which was pushed forward by the leftist government of Alexis Tsipras.
Many New Democracy lawmakers even participated in the past in massive protests against the deal, disappointing many of their colleagues in Brussels and Washington.
When New Democracy took power, it made a swift U-turn and publicly supported the deal, as well as North Macedonia’s EU path.
However, right-wing growth minister Adonis Georgiadis recently stated that the government would change the Prespa Agreement on the issues of citizenship and language as soon as it is given the opportunity.
A couple of days later, the government’s spokesperson Stelios Petsas refuted such an intention, saying the deal has been ratified by the parliament and therefore has to be implemented.
Another problem is three memorandums of understanding as part of the name change deal recently signed between North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart, which need to be approved by the Greek parliament.
In an effort to put conservative politicians in a difficult position, Tsipras has asked for a roll-call vote and so far, the ruling New Democracy party has not been able to find a rapporteur who would steer the three memorandums through parliament.
The ratification process has therefore been delayed and no date has been set yet.
Bulgaria: disagreements over historical figures
In the case of Bulgaria, both Sofia and Skopje lay claim to certain historical events and figures, mainly from the period of struggle against the Ottomans.
EURACTIV Bulgaria recently reported that the two countries clash over Gotse Delchev, a historic figure considered as a national hero both in Bulgaria and North Macedonia.
Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister Krassimir Karakachanov, who is also the leader of the junior coalition nationalist VMRO party, threatened on 10 September that Bulgaria would block North Macedonia’s first intergovernmental conference with the EU – which essentially kickstarts its accession talks – unless the dispute over Delchev’s identity is resolved.
Karachanov complained that Skopje has no desire to engage in a genuine dialogue and is avoiding meetings of the ‘bilateral historic commission’, established under the terms of the two countries’ neighbourhood agreement.
“As early as November last year, the work of the intergovernmental commission, which is supposed to review historical problems, stopped. This is reason enough for Bulgaria to raise this issue very clearly,” Karakachanov said.
Bulgaria has circulated a memorandum among EU member states regarding its “red lines” vis-a-vis Skopje, which says that this country is unable to come to terms with its own past. Earlier this week, however, a group of Bulgarian scientists took a position against the memorandum, asking the Bulgarian authorities to “change their paradigm” with regard to the neighbouring country.
[Edited by Georgi Gotev | EURACTIV.com / EURACTIV.bg]