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North Macedonia Approves Bulgaria Dispute Deal, Clears Way For EU Talks

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President of the EC, Ursula von der Layen, and Stevo Pendarovski, President of North Macedonia. Credit: EC Audiovisual Service

After three days of debate, the parliament of North Macedonia voted to end a long-standing dispute with Bulgaria, thus unblocking its way to European Union membership talks.

With 68 votes, the 120-seat lawmaking body voted in favor of the French-brokered agreement although opposition MPs did not participate in the vote and left the room.

The deal will now lift Bulgaria’s two-year veto on North Macedonia’s EU membership negotiations.

North Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic, has been a candidate for EU membership since 2005, but approval for accession talks was first blocked by Greece over the use of the name Macedonia and then by Bulgaria over historical-cultural claims.

North Macedonia’s deal with Bulgaria

The deal voted by the North Macedonia parliament on Saturday proposes that the country’s constitution be amended to recognize a Bulgarian minority while any remaining issues be discussed between the two countries.

It does not require Bulgaria to recognize the North Macedonian language, which was a major point of conflict.

In exchange, Bulgaria will allow North Macedonia to start membership talks with the EU.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, had addressed the North Macedonia parliament on Friday.

“The future of your country is in the European Union, and Europe is not complete without North Macedonia,” von der Leyen told MPs. “We want you in the EU.”

On the aftermath of the parliament’s positive vote on Saturday, the President of the EC tweeted: “Congratulations to North Macedonia on the vote that now paves the way for opening the accession negotiations rapidly. It was a historic opportunity. And you seized it.
A big step on your path towards a European future. Your future.”

Protests against the deal in both countries

Bulgaria’s parliament lifted its veto on North Macedonian-EU talks last month, a day after Moldova and Ukraine were granted EU candidate status.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to resolve the dispute between Bulgaria and North Macedonia within the framework of EU negotiations became a European proposal after it was approved by all EU member states.

However, the proposal triggered protests in both countries in the weeks prior to the North Macedonia parliament vote.

The main opposition nationalist VMRE-DPMNE party block spearheaded daily protests since early July, contending that the deal endangers the North Macedonian language and identity.

It also triggered protests in Bulgaria and contributed to a no-confidence vote that toppled the government.

Bulgaria’s veto on North Macedonia’s EU accession was based on accusations of disrespecting historical and cultural ties.

Among Bulgaria’s demands was that North Macedonia accepts that the language of North Macedonia is derived from Bulgarian and that it recognizes a Bulgarian minority in the country.

Although the voted deal has included the recognition of the Bulgarian minority, the agreement was amended to address the North Macedonian concerns about the origins of their language.

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