EU enlargement issues are decided by unanimity. One of the highlights of the upcoming EU summit on Thursday and Friday (24 and 25 June) will be the attempt to overcome the persistent Bulgarian veto on the start of North Macedonia’s accession negotiations.
North Macedonia, or FYROM until two years ago, was prevented for many years from advancing toward EU membership by Greece. It came as a surprise to many that the role of the veto-holder was recently taken by another Balkan neighbour – Bulgaria.
We have already analysed the reasons for the Bulgarian veto. But what is new since then and can the veto be overcome?
Our educated guess is that the upcoming summit will not manage to break the deadlock. But it would already mean some progress if Bulgaria could better explain its veto to its EU partners and the world.
There are good chances for that: the country is no longer represented by Boyko Borissov, a notorious illiterate in foreign languages. Borissov is now in opposition, and the country is represented by his arch-foe, President Rumen Radev, a former military pilot fluent in English.
Pending snap elections on 11 July, Radev has appointed a caretaker government, which is digging deep in search of the skeletons in Borissov’s closets.
Also, Radev has made significant overtures towards Skopje:
He took the President of North Macedonia aboard his plane for the traditional annual tribute at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, where in the ninth century, Pope Adrian II blessed the alphabet and books written by the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius. (Until now, Skopje and Sofia paid this tribute separately.)
And he held talks and hosted a dinner on Thursday with North Macedonia’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, in Sofia.
The two had ample opportunity to speak to each other but the big question is if they understood each other.
Sofia tells Skopje that these are issues to be sorted out bilaterally, that Skopje still has a lot to deliver, and that technically, a caretaker government cannot overrule the decision that the Bulgarian Parliament took by an absolute majority on 10 October 2019, which is the legal base for the veto. Bulgaria is now without a parliament until the elections.
Skopje wants a solution fast and is trying to mobilise EU support. This irritates Sofia, which believes Skopje should realise that the road map to the lifting of the veto will take time.
Sadly, the continuing stand-off has provided fuel to those in the former Yugoslav republic who have been peddling an anti-Bulgarian agenda since Tito’s times to further provoke the neighbouring EU member. These forces actually are anti-EU and anti-Western and are doing the bidding of similar political circles in Serbia.
It’s in the interest of the people of North Macedonia to embark on the road toward joining the EU, and it’s in the interest of Bulgaria to have its Western neighbours, North Macedonia and Serbia, in the club. This is what really matters.
The existing obstacles must be removed, because this is in the interest of all, except for a small minority with a hostile geopolitical agenda. The solution will take some time, hopefully months, not years. But there is a lot of work to do.
A message from Martens Centre: EIF 2021 is coming!
Returning on 29-30 June as the European Ideas Forum, the Martens Centre flagship event takes on a broader scope to address some of the most pressing EU challenges! Stay tuned!
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Look out for…
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Views are the author’s
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]