Sofia determined to block North Macedonia, Skopje determined to seek a solution until the last minute

Sofia determined to block North Macedonia, Skopje determined to seek a solution until the last minute

Bulgaria remains firm in its position on the European integration of North Macedonia and does not allow the approval of the negotiating framework, which will pave the way for the holding of the first intergovernmental conference and the start of negotiations for the accession of North Macedonia to the EU. Sofia is sure to block the decision to start negotiations at the EU Council meeting on Tuesday. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said Bulgaria could not say “yes” to North Macedonia at this stage. Officially, Skopje confirms that the chances of a change in Sofia’s position are slim, but that a solution could be found even at the last minute.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said yesterday that he never loses hope because the responsibility of politicians is great, warning that such a decision by Sofia could cause the manifestation of adverse events on both sides.

“I am ready and I have prepared the Macedonian people for a possible blockade and a possible veto. And this is very certain. If you say what percentage, it is more certain than having a positive result. But I still never lose hope because the responsibility is great for politicians. Although the GΑC is at 17, there is time until December, until the end of December is the opportunity for the first intergovernmental conference”, Zaev stated.

He expects responsibility and, as he said, a cry of friendship from the Bulgarian side because they have friends here.

“If a negative message is sent, we all know why it is undesirable, I believe both sides can develop. We do not need that, we need friendship, a helping hand to walk the European path together”, Zaev said.

He expressed hope that, as he said, friendly Bulgaria would remain in the spirit of friendship.

“If they are not satisfied with the fulfillment of the Agreement, they have the opportunity to refuse or block 130 times in 34 chapters, because the Agreement with Greece and the Agreement with Bulgaria are an integral part of the negotiating framework. They are international agreements that have their own implementation. I mention once again, this is confirmed by the Bulgarian side, that we have decided on five historical figures, three historical periods, we are ready to publish them and start the implementation in the books on both sides of North Macedonia and Bulgaria», said the Prime Minister.

Zaev is convinced that with positive decisions friendships are built, while negative decisions build bitterness.

“No one should separate the two nations, they should bring them closer. It is a historic appeal, to the politicians and to us, the politicians of North Macedonia and Bulgaria. The two peoples have a common history, a common past. Today, the peoples of North Macedonia and Bulgaria have developed from this common history and past. From the Slavic group of languages ​​of the South, the two languages ​​of Bulgaria and North Macedonia emerged. Why is it not common enough? How can it be common and be Bulgarian? Or to be common, and to be Macedonian? Common is common. Either together or in general we have to find solutions. The responsibility remains with the politicians with all the decisions we make. If they are positive, history will be written in golden and positive letters; if they are negative, it will record bitterness. I believe we will all be wise and smart to do this”, Zaev said.

The people of North Macedonia, he stressed, will never veto the Bulgarian people, because they consider them a brotherly people with whom they must support each other.

North Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani also hopes the holding of the EU Council will bring the positions closer. These two days, Osmani says, reflect the bet we have made and the implications for our relations, regional issues and the EU’s credibility.

“Our policy is that we will work until the last minute to have a positive decision at the General Affairs Council. We have no alternative to the European agenda. I cannot say what the result will be. Obviously, in the Republic of Bulgaria there is more and more discussion about the non-acceptance of the framework by them, but we will continue to work, to talk not only with the Republic of Bulgaria, but also with all the Member States, because we have no alternative to the European course”, Osmani said.

According to him, it is obvious that there are differences, which in this “bubble” of daily politics and emotions seem seemingly insurmountable, but these differences have nothing to do with the negotiation process.

“These differences have nothing to do with the first intergovernmental conference, nor with the bilateral examination, the chapter on the rule of law, the opening of the chapter on the environment. The negotiation process is nothing more than technical assistance from the European Union to a candidate country, so that it can move forward, have a rule of law, a better environment, better trade relations. Absolutely no issue should be an obstacle that will prevent a country from moving forward on these issues that have common European values”, he pointed out.

His Bulgarian counterpart, Zaharieva, meanwhile, says Bulgaria says “no” to starting negotiations now and not to join North Macedonia in the EU. Sofia believes Skopje is not ready at the moment and does not qualify for start of negotiations.

Zaharieva claims that Bulgaria has always treated North Macedonia well, in all the difficult times so far it has given a hand, and will do so in the future. The full responsibility for the problem lies with North Macedonia.

“Skopje is not implementing the Good Neighborhood Agreement and continues to hate Sofia, so there is no way for Bulgaria to say ‘yes’ at this stage. No one is questioning their right to self-determination and to call their language whatever they want, but we do not agree that this right to self-determination should be based on the hatred, theft of history and denial of Bulgaria and the Bulgarian language. “As they go, they will begin to deny the existence of the Bulgarian nation”, Zaharieva told Bulgarian television BNT.

At an emergency online conference Friday, the Bulgarian government reaffirmed official Sofia’s position on the negotiating framework for North Macedonia and Albania’s EU accession, which will be discussed at a General Affairs Council meeting on November 17.

“Bulgaria is one of the strongest representatives of the European Union enlargement process. Our country put the issue on the agenda of the EU during the presidency of the European Council in 2018. The European perspective is the strongest motivation for the transition to democratic governance and market economy in the Western Balkans”, according to the brief statement of the government meeting, without publishing further details.

At the last meeting of EU ambassadors on November 6, Bulgaria opposed the approval of the negotiating framework for North Macedonia. Sofia informed Brussels that it was unable to accept the proposed negotiating framework and accompanying draft declaration, explaining that they had not provided the necessary guarantees for fulfilling the Bulgarian conditions. Bulgaria has remarks on the non-implementation of the Good Neighbourliness Agreement, on historical issues, but also on the language and identity of North Macedonia.

The EU General Affairs Council, which is set to approve the negotiating framework, was originally scheduled for November 10, but was postponed to November 17, giving Skopje, Sofia and the German Presidency extra time to reach a compromise in a mutually acceptable agreement, which would remove the Bulgarian obstacles./ibna