Deputy PM says Bulgaria must block start of EU talks with North Macedonia

By bne IntelliNews September 24, 2020

Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister Krassimir Karakachanov said his country must block the start of EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia in order to preserve national and European values, news outlet Dnevnik reported on September 24.

His statement comes a day after North Macedonia's media wrote that the country’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev expects to meet his Bulgarian peer Boyko Borissov by November 10 to discuss the controversial memorandum that Sofia sent to EU members with the aim of incorporating it into the accession negotiation framework for Skopje.

Sofia sent the document earlier this month, explaining that Bulgaria has issues with North Macedonia that should be resolved prior to the start of negotiations. North Macedonia, alongside Albania, was invited in March to launch EU accession talks later this year.

“Bulgaria is not against [the start of negotiations], but will say it is not time to schedule a date for the first intergovernmental conference,” Karakachanov said.

Karakachanov accused North Macedonia’s former exterior minister, who is now minister of the Euro integration, Nikola Dimitrov, of failing to make any efforts to improve relations between the two countries. Moreover, he accused North Macedonia of not intending to resolve its issues with Bulgaria at all.

Although Karakachanov said he was speaking on behalf of the government, local analysts suggested his initiative is rather aimed to increase the falling support for his far-right VMRO party amid the most serious political crisis in Bulgaria for years. Bulgaria is now in its third month of anti-government protests.

In the memorandum sent to the EU, Bulgaria says that the main open issues with North Macedonia are the language, the common history and the minority issues. The memorandum contains controversial claims including that the Macedonian language is an artificial "communist-era product" and represents a Bulgarian dialect.

Bulgaria considers that the use of the term Macedonian language in the Prespa Agreement with Greece is not binding for third countries, and it also thinks that the officialisation of the Macedonian language at the United Nations in 1977 is not binding for Sofia. Sofia insists the EU use the term "The official language of the Republic of North Macedonia" in EU documents, which is not acceptable for Skopje.

Meanwhile, the EU's new ambassador to Skopje David Geer has said that the goal of the German EU presidency is to start negotiations with North Macedonia by the end of the year.

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