The first meeting between Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and his North Macedonian counterpart Dimitar Kovacevski concluded amicably as the two leaders announced their commitment to opening a new chapter, while sidestepping concrete answers to thornier questions on history and identity.
Petkov was in Skopje on Tuesday (18 January) to meet with Kovacevski, a former deputy finance minister who recently succeeded Zoran Zaev as leader of the ruling Social Democrats (SDSM) and Prime Ministe of North Macedonia.
As a sign of political goodwill, Bulgaria will begin to use the abbreviated name of North Macedonia and will not block the use of this denomination in international processes and organizations. North Macedonia has informed the United Nations that the use of this name does not implicate the territorial integrity of Bulgaria.
The meeting between the two leaders focused on the establishment of five working groups on infrastructure, economics, EU integration, culture and history.
According to Petkov, the working groups would meet every week “with clear goals, with clear results, and not only political statements.”
Petkov also announced that a direct airline between Skopje and Sofia will be established in the next sixty days. The two governments will meet next Tuesday (25 January) to discuss the matter.
The two leaders agreed to work on their differences with regard to the cultural and historical issues that motivate the Bulgarian veto against North Macedonia on matters of European integration.
Referring to the joint historical commission set up for this purpose, Kovacevski said the commission has its own work plan and “historians are working on a longer process.”
On the other hand, Petkov reiterated that Bulgaria recognizes the existence of a modern Macedonian identity and the language, although the two countries’ issue hinges on the fact that Bulgaria insists both are of Bulgarian origin. Meanwhile, North Macedonia does not recognize the existence of a Bulgarian minority in its territory.
While the meeting ended on a positive note that stressed the importance of concrete solutions, it implies that the new Bulgarian government has not changed its stance on its veto on North Macedonia, spelling trouble for its EU aspirations along with Albania’s.