The Western Balkans move one step closer to joining the EU

On Friday, the Bulgarian parliament voted to lift the veto on North Macedonia’s EU accession talks, leaving the ball with Skopje.

Following Thursday’s summit between 27 EU leaders and six heads of government from the Western Balkans, the removal of the veto, related to a long-standing cultural and linguistic dispute between Sofia and Skopje, was supported by 170 Bulgarian parliamentarians, with 37 votes against and 21 abstentions. .

The decision was hailed as a “historicalone from the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Kiril Petkov. Writing on Twitter, he confirmed that parliament has approved a French compromise proposal. The prime minister also stressed that the “The integration of the Western Balkans is the strategic interest of the EU.”

The country’s Foreign Ministry was also quick to respond to the news saying that Sofia had not “added new requests to Skopje” and was prepared to approve the holding of the first intergovernmental political conference once North Macedonia signed the bilateral protocol.

EU faces internal dispute over admission process: media

According to the parliament’s decision, nothing in North Macedonia’s accession process to the EU could “to be interpreted as recognition of the ‘Macedonian language’ by Bulgaria.” Sofia also reserved the right to block Skopje’s EU candidacy talks in the future, if necessary.

Now, North Macedonia’s parliament must approve the French-brokered proposal before the veto can be lifted.

However, on Thursday, North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski said that “in its current form“the proposal was”unacceptable” for his country.

Bulgaria imposed its veto in 2020 when North Macedonia, an EU candidate since 2005, together with Albania, were ready to start negotiations with the EU. Sofia wants Skopje to officially recognize that its language and culture are essentially Bulgarian, to drop any anti-Bulgarian stance, and to mention a Bulgarian minority in the country’s constitution. North Macedonia has refused to comply with those requests, saying its national identity is not in dispute.

Since the accession process can only proceed with unanimous support, the Bulgarian opposition effectively vetoed the talks, which in turn stopped the talks for Albania, as it is next in line after North Macedonia.

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