EU ambassadors postpone meeting on North Macedonia in attempt to find compromise with Sofia

EU ambassadors postpone meeting on North Macedonia in attempt to find compromise with Sofia
By bne IntelliNews November 4, 2020

The EU ambassadors’ meeting in Brussels on the negotiating framework for North Macedonia has been postponed until Friday to leave space for diplomacy in a language dispute with Bulgaria, according to media reports.

The decision to postpone the ambassadors meeting, originally scheduled for November 4, was made to allow Germany’s diplomatic efforts to prevent Bulgaria from vetoing the start of EU accession talks with Skopje after Sofia officialy said it did not recognise the Macedonian language and nation.

Meanwhile, the government in Skopje announced that North Macedonia’s PM Zoran Zaev held a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the bilateral dispute with Bulgaria.

Zaev expressed gratitude for the engagement of the German presidency of the EU as well as for the personal involvement of Merkel, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth.

Merkel and Zaev shared the common interest and goal of North Macedonia holding the first intergovernmental conference with the EU in December during the German EU presidency.

A day earlier Merkel held a video meeting with Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov.

Zaev said in an interview with Sitel on November 3 that any issue that can be resolved today should not be left for tomorrow.

"I have a decision today  to continue with the bilateral agreement  that for Bulgaria the Macedonian language is 'a language according to the constitution', and for us, Bulgarian to be 'a language according to the constitution'," Zaev said in the interview.

On November 2 North Macedonia’s Deputy PM for European Affairs Nikola Dimitrov and Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani were invited to meet Bulgarian first diplomat Ekaterina Zakharieva in Berlin after Sofia repeatedly threatened to block the start of EU membership talks with Skopje,

Zaharieva later said that there has been some progress in the talks between Sofia and Skopje mainly regarding the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria and the way North Macedonia’s language will be called but despite the progress, Bulgaria was not able to approve the EU membership negotiations framework.

The decision on whether North Macedonia will be allowed to open negotiations will be made by EU foreign ministers on November 10, after it has been prepared by EU ambassadors. Bulgaria can block the process since decisions are made by consensus. Therefore, Germany is urging the two countries to resolve such disputes bilaterally and not to include them in the negotiating framework.

For now, the Bulgarian side seems to remain in the same position. North Macedonia’s officials hope that a solution may yet be found.

Experts in Skopje say that the main fear for Sofia is the existence of Macedonian minority in Bulgaria which has never been recognised, just as the Macedonian minority in Greece is not recognised.