French mediation attempt infuriates MPs in Skopje

File photo. New Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski signs an oath after being elected in the Macedonian Parliament in Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia, 17 January 2022. [EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKI]

The French EU Council presidency’s proposal to lift the Bulgarian veto and allow North Macedonia to start EU accession talks shook the government in Skopje as three coalition parties threatened to leave if the cabinet approved a draft sent to the Bulgarian parliament.

Dnevnik, EURACTIV’s partner in Bulgaria, reported on Thursday (23 June) that the Left Democratic Union, the green DOM (Democratic Renewal for Macedonia), and the Liberal Democratic Party announced that they would leave the governing coalition because of the “unacceptable” document.

The French Presidency of the Council of the EU has tabled a proposal that Bulgaria’s outgoing Prime Minister Kiril Petkov described in positive terms at the EU summit doorstep in Brussels on Thursday, even hinting at a possible lifting of the veto in the following days.

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.

However, while Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev considers the guarantees in the French proposal insufficient, in North Macedonia, the opposition and the government’s junior partners see the concessions offered to Bulgaria as too big for Skopje.

The three parties are small, but with their departure, Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski would lose his majority in Parliament.

In the perspective of Skopje, even the mention in the draft of the negotiating framework of the Macedonian language by giving Bulgaria the right to unilaterally express its position that such language does not exist, was perceived as a “red line”.

This unleashed tensions similar to those during the efforts to solve the Greek veto crisis when politicians in Skopje insisted that “language and identity are not negotiated”.

However, with the Prespa agreement, Skopje gave up its claims of ancient Greek-Macedonian roots.

Interpretations from the documents that appeared in the public space raised eyebrows: for example, North Macedonia must completely revise its history.

Many in North Macedonia see Bulgaria essentially requiring that it accept the Bulgarian version of events during and after the Second World War, for example. Many other instances of the earlier joint history are also disputed.

“I cannot accept that history we studied in primary and secondary school should now change and explain that it is a false history imposed on us by the Communists,” LDP chairman Goran Milevski said in an interview. “If the government accepts the French proposal as it is, I will resign irrevocably as a member of the government,” he said.

Criticism is also coming from the ranks of the ruling Social Democratic Union.

“We must not give up Macedonianism,” said former SDSM prime minister and president Branko Crvenkovski. According to him, the French proposal would open Pandora’s box with more demands from Bulgaria to follow and more compromises on “our identity and history.”

It is wrong to accept the thesis that while identity is non-negotiable, history is, Crvenkovski added.

Conditions by Skopje

The Macedonian prime minister continues to say that no official document has yet been received by his government. On Wednesday, however, he wrote on Facebook that whatever the final text is, the following elements must be included:

  • clear wording on the Macedonian language and protection of the Macedonian identity (in the negotiating framework, the Macedonian language is not a topic, there is only a clarification of how documents will be translated into it);
  • historical issues cannot be criteria in the negotiating framework (they are not, although the text refers to the Neighborhood Agreement);
  • Negotiations between North Macedonia and the EU must begin before the constitutional change that would recognise Bulgarians as an ethnic minority group;
  • clear guarantees that Bulgaria will not have any more requests;
  • any decision concerning the EU negotiations to be consulted with the institutions of North Macedonia.

The French proposal envisions the constitutional procedure being completed by the intergovernmental conference, where real accession talks will begin. Before that, there will be a political intergovernmental conference, where Skopje will learn about the actual steps in the talks.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]

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