North Macedonia slams Bulgaria’s ‘blackmail’ in EU entry process

North Macedonia's Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani (L) wearing protective face mask addresses a joint press conference following a meeting with his Czech counterpart, Tomas Petricek (R), at the Czernin Palace in Prague, Czech Republic, 15 December 2020. [Martin Divisek/EPA/EFE]

North Macedonia’s foreign minister called on the EU Tuesday (15 December) to end the “blackmail” of his country through the imposition by Bulgaria of fresh obstacles to its membership of the bloc.

North Macedonia changed its name last year to end a dispute with Greece which had been blocking its EU ambitions, but now it faces opposition from Bulgaria over interpretation of common history.

“The European process should not entail the blackmail of any country of Europe or the Western Balkans,” Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani said at an online press conference from Prague.

“Our efforts at good relations with neighbours have not been rewarded,” Osmani said, adding that the spat with Bulgaria would have a negative impact on the entire Balkans region.

Bulgaria blocked discussions among EU ministers on North Macedonia’s bid to start negotiations to join the bloc in November. The veto also prevented Albania from starting accession talks, as in terms of EU enlargement, the EU treats Skopje and Tirana as a package.

Bulgaria spells out conditions for unblocking North Macedonia’s EU path

Bulgaria vetoed the decision to open EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia on Tuesday (17 November), a move which indirectly also affects Albania, another Western Balkans candidate which has advanced on its EU path in tandem with Skopje.

Sofia blames Skopje for failing to deliver on the bilateral friendship treaty of August 2017 by not changing textbooks containing what it calls historic falsifications and hate speech against Bulgaria, for allowing anti-Bulgarian rhetoric and for blocking business and joint infrastructure projects. Sofia and Skopje are the only capitals in Europe without a railways link.

After talks with Osmani, Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said he hoped a compromise might be reached by the end of the year.

“Very intensive talks are under way within the EU on how to reach a breakthrough… we would like to reach a compromise this year,” said Petricek.

“The EU must retain… the status of a reliable partner for countries implementing reforms and doing their homework,” he added.

Osmani hailed the support coming from “26 countries” of the 27-member bloc.

“The support from European countries is the best way to renew enthusiasm and trust in the process. And supporting and accelerating the integration process is the best way to improve relations between neighbours,” he added.

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