North Macedonia votes to end dispute with Bulgaria, clears way for EU talks

Supporters of North Macedonia’s largest opposition party VMRO-DPMNE wave flags and shout slogans at a rally calling for the rejection of the French proposal in Skopje (North Macedonia), 5 July, 2022.

North Macedonia’s lawmakers approved a French-mediated deal to settle a dispute with Bulgaria, and open the door for long-awaited European Union membership negotiations.

The 120-seat parliament voted for the agreement with 68 votes. Opposition lawmakers didn’t vote and left the room.

“Today we are opening a new perspective for our country…from today we are moving with accelerated steps to join the EU family,” Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski said in a press conference after his cabinet approved parliament’s conclusions. Kovacevski said the first meeting between his government and the EU would be held today (19 July).

According to the deal, North Macedonia’s constitution should be amended in order to recognize a Bulgarian minority. However, the proposal doesn’t require Bulgaria to recognize the Macedonian language.

Bulgaria will also allow its West Balkan neighbor to join EU membership talks.

Ursula von der Leyen (President of the European Commission) visited Skopje on Thursday and encouraged lawmakers to vote for the deal. She said that the vote “paves way for rapid opening of the accession negotiations.”

Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama said Monday that an Albanian delegation would be traveling to Brussels to begin membership negotiations.

Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, USA, praised the vote and said Washington recognized “the difficult tradeoffs made in this compromise, that acknowledges and respects North Macedonia’s cultural identity, and the Macedonian languages.”

Hristijan Mickoski (leader of the largest opposition party VMRO/DPMNE), who has protested against the deal from the beginning of July, stated that “nothing was done”. Hristijan Mickoski, the leader of the largest opposition party VMRO-DPMNE, said that his party would not support constitutional changes that require two-thirds vote. The parliament of Bulgaria lifted its veto last month on Macedonian-EU negotiations. The protests in Bulgaria also led to a no confidence vote, which led to the downfall of the government.

North Macedonia is a former Yugoslav republic that has been a candidate to join the EU for 17 years. However, approval was initially blocked by Greece, then by Bulgaria.