The leaders of North Macedonia and EU member Bulgaria appear to have considered a possible exit from a year-long dispute over a shared culture that has blocked Macedonian hopes of progressing towards membership talks with the block.
But without a decisive breakthrough to dispel Sofia’s objections to opening such negotiations, EU officials acknowledged that the failure to decide to open membership talks with Skopje was likely damaging “credibility” of the block.
A provisional route to break the 10-month deadlock emerged on October 6, after a meeting between Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of an EU-Western Balkans summit at Brdo Castle in Slovenia.
“During the talks, North Macedonia and Bulgaria expressed mutual willingness and interest in continuing the dialogue between the two countries with the intention of reaching a solution,” Zaev said in a statement. declaration.
Sofia raised her objection to EU membership talks with North Macedonia in November 2020, accusing Macedonians of marginalizing historical, cultural and linguistic ties and appropriating Bulgarian heritage.
Radev, who faces a re-election battle in November alongside his disunited country’s third parliamentary elections this year, told Brdo Castle that a bilateral protocol was being worked out between Sofia and Skopje and would be presented this month. next.
He said a roadmap with specific decisions could follow that Sofia will insist on including in the framework of North Macedonia’s EU membership negotiations.
Radev listed three demands from the Bulgarian side before Sofia withdrew her objection to the EU talks for Skopje: a previous insistence on the inclusion of Bulgarians as a nationality in the Macedonian constitution; the enumeration of Macedonian Bulgarians “adequately reflected as a nationality and as a number” in the forthcoming Macedonian census; and the recognition by North Macedonia of “the historical truth in relations with Bulgaria”.
The European Commission has repeatedly stated that the future of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia lies with the 27-member bloc.
But divisions among EU states over welcoming new members and the slow pace of reforms in the six candidates put enlargement on hold for years.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen admitted to Brdo on October 6 that the blocking of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and neighboring Albania was damaging the EU’s credibility in the Western Balkans .