North Macedonia seeks support for deal with Bulgaria to unlock EU membership talks

North Macedonia PM Dimitar Kovacevski speaking at a press conference in Skopje, North Macedonia, on June 30, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SOFIA, Bulgaria (BLOOMBERG) - North Macedonia's government said it is beginning consultations to find support for a European Union proposal seeking to unlock the country's path to the bloc.

The Balkan country's start of accession talks has been blocked by neighbouring Bulgaria over a long dispute involving history and language. Bulgaria, which also wants guarantees for the rights of its nationals in North Macedonia, approved last week a mechanism that, under certain conditions, will allow the government to lift its veto over the enlargement negotiations.

North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski will hold talks with political leaders and will present the EU proposal, which seeks to satisfy the demands of both sides, to Parliament, he told reporters in Skopje, the capital, on Friday (July 1).

"We have a proposal that incorporates our notes and our clearly stated stances," Mr Kovacevski said. "In order to build an official position as a country, today we started a broad consultative process."

If he finds support for a deal with Bulgaria, the two countries will sign a protocol that will guide them into resolving historical and cultural disputes. That may also unlock the EU talks with Albania, another Balkan candidate.

The EU-backed deal seeks to alleviate doubts among Balkan countries that the bloc is still committed to enlargement amid concern of growing Russian influence in the region.

Their worries that they will be left behind have only intensified since the start of war in Ukraine, which prompted EU leaders to advance a decision to approve both Ukraine and Moldova as membership candidates.

North Macedonia has faced multiple hurdles on its path to Western integration. It had to change its official name to resolve a dispute with neighbouring Greece before joining Nato in 2020.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.