North Macedonia: Efforts continue for negotiations to resume in December

North Macedonia: Efforts continue for negotiations to resume in December

Diplomatic efforts continue to bring the positions of North Macedonia and Bulgaria closer together in order to enable the first North Macedonia Intergovernmental Summit with the EU to take place during the German Presidency. Berlin and Skopje are in favor of starting negotiations in December, which was discussed as a common goal and interest during yesterday’s telephone conversation between the Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In order to bring the positions closer, the President of North Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski also spoke with his Bulgarian counterpart Rumen Radev, although no further details were announced about the conversation.

As November 10 approaches, when the EU is set to decide on a negotiating framework for North Macedonia, high-level contacts and meetings are intensifying to find a solution with Bulgaria, for which a negotiating framework in this form is not acceptable and announced that she would not approve it. These meetings were mediated by Germany, which insists on holding the first Intergovernmental Conference with North Macedonia by the end of the year, during the EU Presidency in Berlin.

The two countries’ positions and the possibility of their rapprochement were also discussed by telephone by Pendarovski and Radev, after the Bulgarian President had previously announced his position on the current intensive diplomatic activities between Skopje and Sofia on his Facebook profile and said he expected by the Bulgarian government to fight Article 35 of the negotiating framework for the Republic of North Macedonia to include the national framework position unanimously approved by the National Assembly a year ago.

Yesterday, the government confirmed its position, namely that the language and identity of North Macedonia are facts that are confirmed by the UN and that there should be no dilemma about it, and that there is no need for a new agreement or annex to the Good Neighbourly Agreement with Bulgaria signed in 2017. This agreement, said yesterday the representative of the government Dusko Arsovski, is a good basis and framework for the continuation of the talks aimed at finding solutions.

Some analysts from North Macedonia are on the same line. Malinka Ristevska Jordanova from the European Policy Institute (EPI) told MIA that Bulgaria is pushing for an approach that will turn the accession process into an identity change process. “We must be firm and clear that we are ready for an objective process of meeting the standards for EU membership, but not for abusing it for unreasonable purposes, contrary to these rules and standards”, she said. “If we make a substantial concession now, it could lead to another, even more absurd request, another concession, and so on indefinitely”, Ristevska Jordanova told MIA.

As for the announced Bulgarian veto on the start of negotiations, she points out that it is likely to happen because the approval of the negotiating framework requires consent. According to her, such an exclusion would have its price for Bulgaria, because it opposes the proposal of the Commission, the Presidency of Germany and all other Member States.

“Now more pressure is coming on us, especially from Deputy Prime Minister Karakachanov and Foreign Minister Zaharieva, to accept a ‘compromise’ tailored on them. It is obvious that the European diplomats, with a realistic approach, are looking for a formula in which our side would make a step that would save face for the Bulgarian side, so that Prime Minister Borissov shows some good will and not hinder the first Intergovernmental Conference, Ristevska Jordanova said.

Aleksandar Krzalovski from the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation MCIC also agrees that it is possible, and according to him, Bulgaria’s veto on the start of negotiations could be even more certain.

There are visible and many invisible efforts of other Member States, especially Germany as the current Presidency of the Union, to overcome the Bulgarian remarks or wishes or expectations, at least temporarily, for the start of negotiations, but this veto power is strong and it has and can be used by any Member State. We remember how Greece used it in 2008”, Krazolovski said.

In order to bring the positions of North Macedonia and Bulgaria closer, as part of Germany’s diplomatic efforts to achieve this goal, a recent meeting was held between Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Nikola Dimitrov and Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani with Foreign Minister of Bulgaria Ekaterina Zaharieva on the initiative of German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, after which it was announced that little progress has been made./ibna