The United States has called on Bulgaria to resolve its veto of North Macedonia’s EU accession, linked to Albania.
The renewed calls come following the results of the third parliamentary elections this year and presidential elections. Rumen Radev was elected for a second term following a run-off election yesterday, and the subsequent ruling party will be a new centrist party, ‘We continue the change’, likely headed by Kiril Petkov.
In a letter from two members of the Foreign Policy Committee, Claudia Teni and William Keating, to the Bulgarian Ambassador to the US, Tihomir Stojchev, they said that failure to continue the accession process risks “opening the door to anti-Western political influences…especially those from China and Russia.”
They added that “we believe that eventual EU membership is critical for North Macedonia and Albania, long-term peace and stability within the Balkan region and the entire transatlantic community.”
The two representatives urged the Bulgarian government to “reach a final settlement” to the dispute “before the end of the year”.
It was hoped that a change of government could see the deadlock over the Macedonian veto lifted. Still, with Radev back as president, along with other extenuating circumstances, it seems unlikely.
Radev had previously said the veto would be lifted if North Macedonia met three conditions.
The three demands laid down by Radev are that Macedonian Bulgarians be included on an equal footing in the constitution. Serbs, Albanians, Turks, Bosniaks, and Roma are currently mentioned, but Bulgarians are not.
Secondly, for the Macedonian census to reflect the self-identification of Bulgarians. Thirdly, he said North Macedonia must recognize a “historical truth” and that textbooks in the country’s schools should not include hateful language.
A decision is likely to be taken on the date of the first intergovernmental conference- which marks the start of formal accession negotiations- on 16 and 17 December at the EU summit. If Sofia has not formed a government by then, Radev will represent the country at the summit.
The chances of the new government lifting the veto are low as coalition partners would disagree, and the government would likely collapse once again. Radev is also unlikely to make the concession so soon after being elected again and following no changes from Skopje.
North Macedonia’s political turmoil does not help the situation. Both (for now) Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s SDSM and opposition VMRO-DPMNW who swept to victory in local elections are pinning their hopes on foreign pressure on Bulgaria, rather than having to make any changes themselves.
With France taking over the European Council Presidency in January 2022 and heading to presidential elections in the spring, no snap decisions are likely. Emmanuel Macron is not historically in favour of enlargement, and with migration and enlargement high on the French agenda, particularly from the right, this will be a topic he is keen to stay away from.
Meanwhile, Albania finds itself tethered to the fate of North Macedonia. Although, some in Brussels have speculated that the country only received a unanimous vote at the last summit, as a show of ‘diplomacy’, because member states new North Macedonia would remain vetoed.