Bulgaria has blocked the start of EU talks with North Macedonia, claiming the latter is not ready due to lack of enough progress in implementing a 2017 agreement for good neighborly relations with Bulgaria.
“At this stage, Bulgaria cannot support the draft negotiating framework with the Republic of Northern Macedonia and the holding of the first intergovernmental conference,” Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva stated on Tuesday, after an online meeting on the matter with her counterparts from all EU member states.
The EU General Affairs Council, composed of all EU member states minister covering EU issues, discussed negotiating frameworks for Albania and North Macedonia today. The documents set the paths to be followed by each country during negotiation with the EU until their accession.
Bulgaria insists that the EU must include three specific conditions in North Macedonia’s negotiating framework.
First, it wants certain wording for the Macedonian language not to be called as such, but “the official language of North Macedonia”. This is because Bulgaria claims that Macedonian is merely a dialect of Bulgarian language.
Second, it wants North Macedonia to specifically agree in the negotiating framework that there is no Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. This relates Bulgaria’s claim that Macedonian language and identity were forged after WWII, and their fears that North Macedonia may claim a minority that speaks and identifies itself with Macedonian language and identity, which Bulgaria roughly considers a Bulgarian dialect and forged identity.
Third, Bulgaria wants the negotiating framework to include a roadmap for the implementation of the 2017 Neighborhood Agreement with Bulgaria.
The most difficult Bulgarian “conditions” for North Macedonia seem to be the first two, which directly affect the national identity.
This has become particularly sensitive after the deal with Greece to change the country’s name, for which the Macedonian government received a backlash on patriotic and nationalist grounds.
“The proposed project [i.e., negotiating framework] does not reflect Bulgarian demands and cannot be supported in its current form,” Zaharieva stated on Tuesday.
The negotiating framework for both countries is expected to be discussed again, for the last time under the German presidency of the EU, in December 2020, which still leaves some room for negotiations.