Bulgaria’s parliament approves French compromise to lift veto on opening of North Macedonia’s EU talks

Bulgaria’s parliament approves French compromise to lift veto on opening of North Macedonia’s EU talks
The vote was seen as a breakthrough by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia June 24, 2022

Bulgaria’s parliament on June 24 approved a French proposal that would lift the country's veto on the start of North Macedonia’s EU membership talks.  The decision now must be approved by the government, which theoretically could do that immediately by holding a meeting by telephone.

The vote was seen as a breakthrough by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov but North Macedonia has already rejected the French EU Presidency's compromise plan because it foregrounds Bulgaria's complaints about its neighbour and says that these must be dealt with before anything else. 

The European Council, meeting on June 23-24 again failed to allow Moldova to start accession talks because of Bulgaria's veto. Albania is also blocked, because the two countries have been linked in the accession process.

Domestic political turmoil over the issue helped bring the Bulgarian government down on the eve of the summit.

Lifting the veto – imposed by the former ruling Gerb party at the end of 2020 – was backed by Petkov’s Change Continues, Democratic Bulgaria, Gerb and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Slavi Trifonov’s There Are Such People (ITN) and the far-right pro-Russian Vazrazhdane voted against the proposal, while the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) abstained.

Trifonov called the vote treason and accused Change Continues and Democratic Bulgaria of entering into a coalition with Gerb and DPS, which were surrounded by corruption scandals during their last period in power.

According to the text adopted by the parliament, Bulgaria’s government can lift the veto if four conditions are met. The text of the French proposal should be refined so that it guarantees inclusion of the Bulgarians living in North Macedonia in the constitution on an equal basis with the rest of peoples in those sections of the constitution where these peoples are mentioned.

Sofia also wants a clarification of the texts that would guarantee that nothing in the process of North Macedonia’s EU accession can be considered an admission of the existence of the Macedonian language by Bulgaria.

Bulgaria will also seek guarantees that the good relations between the two neighbours will remain part of the criteria that North Macedonia should fulfil to be accepted in the EU.

Sofia also wants a friendship treaty signed in 2017 to be referenced in the documents for the start of North Macedonia’s EU accession talks.

Although the decision of parliament was seen as an end of the veto, Hristo Ivanov, one of Democratic Bulgaria’s co-leaders, explained that it is not being lifted but strengthened, as from now on Bulgaria will have the whole European family on its side in the case that North Macedonia decides not to fulfil its promises.

“There is no other country that would propose such an offer. At the moment when the French presidency ends, the political conditions disappear. We are risking losing a real chance for guarantees for our interests. We have no time,” Ivanov said during the four-hour debate in parliament.

BSP also admitted that the decision was “visionary” but did not back it as it does not completely resolve the problem over the allegedly disrespectful attitude of North Macedonia towards Bulgaria.