The long-running saga around Bulgaria’s veto of North Macedonia beginning negotiations to join the European Union looked to be moving towards resolution on Wednesday, writes Georgi Karamfilov from Euronews Bulgaria. But just as an agreement appeared on the horizon, Bulgaria’s government collapsed cloaking the issue in uncertainty yet again.
The issue of the Bulgarian “veto” over the start of negotiations for North Macedonia to join the EU has been on Brussels’ agenda for the past two years.
During this period, Sofia has been repeatedly visited by various representatives of the European Commission.
Most notably, Oliver Varhelyi, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, who made attempts to untangle the dispute. But no significant progress was made.
Now, however, a so-called “French proposal” has been put on the table to resolve the dispute between the two countries in a way that would allow North Macedonia to get a framework for its membership negotiations and start working on it, but also to give a guarantee for Bulgarian concerns about the possible accession of Skopje to the 27-country bloc.
You can read more about why Bulgaria has vetoed North Macedonia’s bid to join the EU here.
The term “French proposal”, which has become a byword in Bulgaria in recent days, does not actually mean the proposal is made specifically by the French government. Rather, it was “conceived” during the French presidency of the European Council, which finishes at the end of June. It was Brussels’ aim to find a resolution by the end of France’s presidency.
At its core, the French presidency’s proposal relies on Bulgaria allowing Skopje to start the integration process now or at least in the foreseeable future. In return, the European Commission will compromise on its principled position not to engage in bilateral disputes.
Thus, the European Commission will become the guarantee of the conditions set for North Macedonia, putting them in the very negotiating framework that will be provided to Skopje. Included in it are requirements such as the inclusion of Bulgarians in the constitution of North Macedonia, the protection of the rights and interests of minorities in North Macedonia, the insertion of a clear commitment to the fight against hate speech in the country and resolving of the Macedonian language issue in a way that does not directly concern the Bulgarian position on the issue.
A key point in the French proposal is the European Commission’s monitoring of North Macedonia’s compliance with previous bilateral treaties with EU countries – the Prespa agreement with Greece and the Treaty of Friendship, Neighbourhood and Cooperation with Bulgaria.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s ambitions to provide a solution to the stalemate, however, have already managed to cause domestic political turmoil in Bulgaria.
They were even given as a reason for the collapse of the ruling coalition in the country after the “There Is Such A People” (ITN) party of television star Slavi Trifonov started accusing the government that under French pressure Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov had accepted to lift the veto.
In a video statement, Trifonov said that the “French proposal” requires Bulgaria to lift the veto at the start of the negotiations and Brussels will give a possible guarantee that Bulgaria’s demands will be respected afterwards. However, his words were refuted and described as insinuations. It also became clear that Bulgaria’s outgoing foreign minister, Teodora Genchovska (from Slavi Trifonov’s party), has also worked on the French proposal.
Shortly after receiving the proposal, Bulgarian Prime Minister Petkov delegated the responsibility for its adoption to parliament.
At the moment the proposal has been submitted to the Bulgarian National Assembly and it is expected to be examined by the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs.
However, there is no scheduled meeting of the committee yet. This drew criticism from Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, who said the proposal was “the best and fairest” so far.
However, the government has abdicated its responsibility to rule on the proposal and delegated this responsibility entirely to the parliament.
Considering the government of Petkov lost its parliamentary majority and then, on Wednesday, a confidence vote, there is a high chance of new elections. All this means that there is a real risk that the proposal will not be considered at all.