North Macedonia has a place in the European family and the Bulgarian government is committed to achieving this outcome as soon as possible, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said on March 28, BGNES reported. Petkov was speaking after a meeting with Nato prime ministers from Southeast Europe in Sofia where he met his peer from North Macedonia Dimitar Kovacevski.
Bulgaria vetoed the launch of EU accession talks with Skopje for two consecutive years over history and language issues. As Albania's progress has been coupled with North Macedonia's, both countries have been unable to progress on their EU accession paths.
Recently, however, as well as prompting applications for EU membership from Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has given fresh urgency to the enlargement process for the Western Balkan states, which are seen as vulnerable to Russian influence.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on March 28, after a meeting with his Swedish counterpart Magdalena Andersson, that the governments of Sweden and Germany are convinced that it is time to open accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia as soon as possible. "Any further delay makes the Western Balkans more vulnerable to the influence of third parties," Scholz said, according to a government statement.
Bulgaria has been under increasing pressure to lift its veto on the start of talks with North Macedonia. Speaking on March 28, Petkov detailed the ongoing work carried out by Bulgaria and North Macedonia with the aim of finding a solution to their dispute.
"I want to say an absolutely clear message to all Bulgarians and people from North Macedonia — we work with Kovacevski in a very coordinated way with focused deadlines. We have set several milestones that need to be achieved,” Petkov said.
He recalled that "there are several milestones that we need to clear, including the protection of minority rights".
"I think our relationship has historically improved a lot in the last three months. We have a common goal. Against the background of the war in Ukraine, the Western Balkans must take the path to the EU accession. For North Macedonia and Albania, this process must begin. I expect this process to accelerate in the next few weeks,” Petkov added.
"I hear good news from the joint historical commission. The issues that were difficult to overcome now seem realistic to overcome. I have a clear intention to move forward as quickly as possible,” Petkov said.
Both Petkov and Kovacevski assessed that the agreements and memoranda of cooperation signed so far indicate a serious progress in the dialogue between the two countries, according to the North Macedonia’s government statement.