German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pushed Bulgaria to lift its blockade on North Macedonia’s EU bid during a visit to Sofia on Saturday, but failed to move the long-running dispute forward.
Scholz, who stopped in Sofia on a tour of the region’s main capitals, said after a meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov he saw “opportunities for progress”. While no such opportunities were apparent on Saturday, Scholz did his best to put a diplomatic spin on his visit.
“These things cannot be dictated; they must be resolved cooperatively,” Scholz said, adding that he expected the talks to continue in the coming days and that a new “momentum” had been achieved. Berlin’s aim is to resolve the issues surrounding North Macedonia before the June 23-24 European Council meeting.
Petkov, whose governing coalition is hanging by a thread after one of the four parties abandoned the alliance over fears the prime minister would override Bulgaria’s veto, said on Saturday he stood by on the terms that his country had stipulated to break the deadlock.
Bulgaria, which has been embroiled in a years-long dispute with North Macedonia over history, language and identity, made several demands of its neighbor before it agreed to give the green light to the EU accession talks, including that Skopje entrench the rights of a Bulgarian minority in the county in its constitution.
The dispute is just the latest in a series of obstacles North Macedonia has faced on its way to the EU. In 2018 he agreed to change his name to North Macedonia in order to resolve a dispute with Greece.
Germany, which for years has championed the cause of Western Balkan countries joining the EU, is eager to speed up the process, fearing that Russia is trying to further sow division in the region amid its broader confrontation with the West over Ukraine.
During a stopover in Skopje earlier on Saturday, Scholz praised North Macedonia for the progress it has made in recent years.
“Germany is serious about EU integration for the whole region and this is especially true for North Macedonia,” he said, noting that the country had fulfilled all the conditions for begin formal membership talks.