Bulgarian parliament handed a mandate on Friday (24 June) to the outgoing cabinet of Kiril Petkov to approve a French proposal allowing Sofia to lift its veto on the start of North Macedonia’s EU accession talks.
The decision, taken after several hours of debates with 170 votes in favour and 37 against, kicks the ball into the yard of Bulgaria’s northern neighbour, whose prime minister has already indicated they would not accept the proposal.
As expected, those who voted in favour were the MPs from Petkov’s “We continue the change”, former prime minister Boyko Borissov’s GERB, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) and Democratic Bulgaria, the small centre-left fore which was the author of the motion.
Those who opposed it were the pro-Russian Vazrazhdane (Revival) party and Slavi Trifonov’s populist party “There is such a people”, which recently left Petkov’s coalition government. The socialists (BSP) abstained.
MPs from Vazrazhdane and “There is such a people” slammed the new majority as “servants of foreign forces”.
The French proposal incorporates Bulgaria’s conditions for solving the bilateral issues as part of Skopje’s negotiating framework, the European Commission being the guarantor of their implementation. This compromise became known as the “French proposal” because it came during the French presidency of the Council of the EU.
The National Assembly has set the following conditions:
- fine-tuning the text of the Council’s conclusion so as to ensure the inclusion of the Bulgarians in the constitution of North Macedonia;
- making it clear that nothing in the negotiation process can be interpreted as Bulgaria’s recognition of the existence of the Macedonian language;
- guaranteeing that good neighbourliness remains a horizontal criterion throughout the negotiation process.
“On this basis of and only under these conditions will the 47th National Assembly expect the Council of Ministers to approve the draft negotiating framework simultaneously or after the signing of the minutes of the second meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission on the Neighborhood Agreement,” the decision reads.
On Thursday, Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski said the French proposal was unacceptable to his country.
In a Facebook post, he insisted on:
- Clear wording regarding the Macedonian language and protection of the Macedonian identity;
- Historical issues cannot be criteria in the negotiating framework;
- Negotiations between North Macedonia and the EU must begin before the constitutional change that would recognise Bulgarians as an ethnic minority group;
- Clear guarantees that Bulgaria will not have any more requests;
- Any decision concerning EU negotiations to be consulted with the institutions of North Macedonia.
He said North Macedonia insists on the inclusion of the Macedonian language in the negotiating framework with Brussels to receive guarantees for the protection of the Macedonian identity, and the unresolved issues of the shared history to be left out of the negotiations.
Speaking in Brussels on Thursday at a press conference alongside his Albanian and Serbian counterparts, Kovačevski said, “In its current form, it is unacceptable to me, citizens, coalition partners, president, the whole of the Republic of North Macedonia.”
He added: “All 27 nations, countries, they [joined the EU] proudly with diversities, full respect of each other and all linguistic, cultural and historical matters, none of these issues were disputed by the 27 member states when they joined the EU. This is what we want, nothing more, nothing less.”
After the publication of this article, Petkov spoke to journalists. He said that it was now the turn of the government of North Macedonia to “lead the nation”.
“I think that with the help of the European diplomacy, of the NATO partners, they will be able to overcome their internal difficulties and lead their nation on the way to Europe”, Petkov said.
He said that he was congratulated by all EU leaders, adding that it was important that now they understood Bulgaria’s concerns.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]