Bulgaria maintains its North Macedonia veto

The Bulgarian representative at the meeting, Deputy Foreign Minister Rumen Alexandrov, announced that his country is “open for a constructive dialogue with the upcoming Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU to find mutually acceptable solutions.” [Shutterstock/NINA IMAGES]

Bulgaria has said it backs the European ambitions of North Macedonia, but maintained its veto on Skopje starting accession talks, during the regular General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday.

The Bulgarian representative at the meeting, Deputy Foreign Minister Rumen Alexandrov, announced that his country is “open for a constructive dialogue with the upcoming Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU to find mutually acceptable solutions.”

This a clear message that no breakthrough could intervene at the last EU summit under the present Portuguese presidency, on Thursday and Friday.

“Bulgaria continues exploratory consultations with Skopje in implementation of the Treaty of Friendship and Good Neighborliness. We approach the issue constructively and in good faith, but we expect the Republic of North Macedonia to start implementing in practice the commitments made at a high level on 17 June 2021 in Sofia, which will allow us to move in a positive direction”, said Rumen Alexandrov.

He referred to commitments made during the recent visit of North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to Sofia.

The commitments reportedly include Skopje’s explicit renunciation of territorial, minority and historical claims to Bulgaria, stopping the practice of changing monuments’ inscriptions by deleting their Bulgarian historic character, putting an end to inciting hatred towards Bulgaria in North Macedonia, and the launch of a rehabilitation process for the victims of Yugoslav communism repressed for their Bulgarian self-consciousness.

In addition, Bulgaria insists that the implementation of the Neighborhood Agreement by North Macedonia be included among the conditions in the future Negotiating Framework for Skopje’s accession to the EU, Deputy Minister Alexandrov said.

According to diplomats, this could be done by opening an additional chapter to the accession negotiations.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria praised Albania’s achievements in the reform process and reaffirmed its support for adopting the country’s negotiating framework.

“EU ministers have taken stock of the events in the region and underlined the strategic importance and geopolitical reality of the EU’s enlargement, which is an investment in peace, democracy, progress, and security and stability in Europe,” Portuguese Foreign Minister Ana Paula Zacarias commented.

The Bulgarian press noted that the lack of a positive decision at the meeting was met with criticism in Skopje, where President Stevo Pendarovski said if the spat with Bulgaria were to persist, alternatives need to be explored.

“In conditions when EU enlargement is de facto frozen, we have two options, to bring Europe home and secondly, in my opinion, we should soon start reviving the strategic partnership agreement with the United States from 2008,” he said.

He noted that the key problem for the EU is to make decisions by consensus and this prevents the bloc from becoming a key geopolitical player.

“This does not mean giving up European integration, on the contrary. But if the dispute with Bulgaria continues, we must look for alternatives,” he said.

On Serbia and Montenegro, Zacarias said intergovernmental conferences between the EU, Belgrade and Podgorica in Luxembourg “sent out a favourable signal on the connectedness of the EU and the Western Balkans and especially apply to the new enlargement methodology.”

(Antonia Kotseva | EURACTIV.bg; Georgi Gotev| EURACTIV.com, EURACTIV.rs | betabriefing.com, Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

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