North Macedonia: Efforts to lift veto on negotiating framework continue

North Macedonia: Efforts to lift veto on negotiating framework continue

Ahead of tomorrow’s EU General Affairs Council meeting in Brussels, during which the EU negotiating framework with North Macedonia is expected to be reviewed and voted, the country remains committed to moving the process forward despite the rather slim chances of the announced Sofia veto being revoked, which insists that its historic demands should be included in the framework.

While Sofia has refrained these days from officially announcing whether a change of heart and the unblocking of the negotiating framework is possible, which would pave the way for the first intergovernmental conference and the start of negotiations between North Macedonia and the EU, Skopje emphasizes that the channels of communication with Sofia remain open at all times. North Macedonia resolutely refuses to discuss identity and language. This is a document that will be a memorandum or protocol further implemented, with the aim of realizing the Good Neighborliness and Cooperation Agreement.

Until the very last minute, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev does not lose hope of still existing a possibility that Bulgaria will withdraw its announced veto on the commencement of accession talks for North Macedonia by the end of the year under the German Presidency.

He confirmed that the channels of communication are constantly open with the Republic of Bulgaria and the issues raised are being intensively discussed, as they constitute an obstacle to the agreement on the approval of the negotiating framework for the Republic of North Macedonia for the start of accession negotiations. He described as constructive Bulgarian Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov’s statements during a radio interview over the weekend, and stressed that it was clear from the discussion that Karakachanov had no problem accepting the existence of the Macedonian language and its Macedonian people.

Zoran Zaev appears moderately optimistic that Bulgaria will take a positive step towards the European integration of North Macedonia, although he stresses it will not come as a surprise and we must be ready to postpone this issue, which, as he said, can affect the elections that Bulgaria expects to hold next March.

Regarding the use of the adjective “Macedonian”, which has hampered the work of the Joint North Macedonia-Bulgaria Committee on Historical Issues due to different interpretations of the Prespa Agreement, Zaev clarified that the Prespa Agreement is clearly different when used as the defining factor of our identity. He regrets that no progress has been made due to what he says is a lack of ingenuity and courage, stressing nonetheless that the work of experts and specialists, who are convinced that they will find a solution, is on the side of history.

DUI leader Ali Ahmeti, an associate of the ruling coalition, stated yesterday that he believes in resolving the North Macedonia-Bulgaria dispute and expects Bulgaria to overcome sensitive issues. As claimed, the longer we wait the more emotions start imbuing historical issues.

“We support our fellow Macedonians in this very important process, and I believe that the Bulgarian side will take into account these important procedures. We believe that Bulgaria will find the strength to overcome these emotional states because, if the Balkans remain trapped in history, we will literally have to build a new Balkan region. It is in our best interest not to lose the chance to join the European Union,” Ahmeti told Channel 5.

Opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, on the other hand, accuses the government of using the adjective “Macedonian” in the negotiations with Bulgaria, fearing that it will abandon the history of North Macedonia, the Macedonian language and the Macedonian identity.

Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, meanwhile, said last week that the solution with Bulgaria lies in the Good Neighborliness Agreement, adding that the goal is to restore confidence in the process, overcome different interpretations and find common ground and common understandings of historical facts and figures.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, the EU ambassadors in Sofia and the EU Office in their country last weekend, Bulgarian intellectuals called on the Bulgarian government to give the green light for the prompt kick-off of negotiations for North Macedonia’s EU accession, implying that they shall take place by the end of 2020 under the German EC Presidency. Instead of historical issues, discussions should refocus on the field of cooperation in culture, economy, politics, ecology, and so forth. They claim it is unacceptable to challenge the nation and language of North Macedonia, deeming it inappropriate to wait for one side in the negotiations to commit political suicide. They argue that one of the first steps shall be to name the transport infrastructure between the two countries in Corridor 8 “Goce Delchev”.

Athens officials, on the other hand, have yet to adopt a position on the differences between Skopje and Sofia, with the only messages conveyed by the Greek government expressing the administration’s continued support toward the European perspective of the countries in the region. Giannis Armakolas, professor at the University of “Macedonia”, Thessaloniki, and senior research associate of the Hellenic Foundation for Foreign Policy “ELIAMEP”, speaking with the MIA correspondent from Athens regarding the developments in the Skopje-Sofia dispute, characterized the situation in the country as unfair, commenting that it is not too late for Greece to do something to overcome the differences and unlock the European perspective.

Among other things, he said, Athens has failed to render it unambiguous to its partners and allies that the Prespa Agreement, that is, the “new strategic relationship with North Macedonia” and the country’s stability and progress, constitute a vital strategic choice and interest.

Meanwhile, it is confirmed that Sofia remains isolated following its veto against North Macedonia, with all other Member States facing no dilemma regarding the proposed negotiating framework. The latest opportunity to adopt the framework for North Macedonia, according to MIA reports from Brussels, is the EU summit in mid-December, when direct bilateral contacts between Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and other heads of state and government will be an opportunity for more pressure to be exerted; especially following German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement that she hopes for some kind of development with regard to North Macedonia by the end of the year.

If Bulgaria does not back down now, Portugal will assume the Presidency in the first half of 2021, which has less interest in enlargement, while elections are scheduled in Bulgaria for March. Therefore, the decision is likely to be postponed until the second half of 2021 when Slovenia will hold the presidency. Such an extension raises concerns among most Member States about North Macedonia maintaining its reform momentum. /ibna