Bulgaria confirms veto on start of EU membership talks with North Macedonia

Bulgaria confirms veto on start of EU membership talks with North Macedonia
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia November 24, 2021

Bulgaria confirmed its veto on the launch of membership talks between the European Union and North Macedonia during a meeting of the EU’s General Affairs Council, saying the country still needs to fulfil criteria to unblock the process, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

Currently the progress of North Macedonia and Albania is stalled because of Bulgaria’s veto on the start of accession negotiations with North Macedonia, imposed when the previous Bulgarian government sought to wring concessions out of Skopje over bilateral language and historical issues.

“Unfortunately, Republic of North Macedonia still does not cover the criteria for conducting the first intergovernmental conference,” Bulgaria’s ambassador to the EU Rumen Aleksandrov said following the meeting.

He added that Albania should be assessed independently from North Macedonia, based on its own achievements. Currently, the process of the two states is coupled together and Sofia’s veto on Skopje blocks that start of EU membership talks with Albania as well.

Aleksandrov also noted that Bulgaria has proposed several options for overcoming the issues with North Macedonia related to the rights of people with Bulgarian nationality, as well as to the implementation of the friendship treaty signed between the two states.

“Our partners in the Republic of North Macedonia should make specific binding engagements, part of which to be fulfilled in the short-term and the remainder to be included in the requirement of the future negotiations framework. Until that happens, a progress in the process of enlargement with the Republic of North Macedonia cannot be expected,” Aleksandrov said.

Bulgaria was under international pressure to unblock the start of EU membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia. Earlier in November, the US senators Claudia Tenney and William R. Keating, both members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urged Sofia to find a compromise and resolve the situation.

In a letter to Bulgaria’s ambassador to Washington, Tihomir Stoytchev, they wrote that the further blocking of the process would open the door for stronger Russian and Chinese influence in the region.