North Macedonia votes to end dispute with Bulgaria, clears the path for EU accession

North Macedonia votes to end dispute with Bulgaria, clears the path for EU accession
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EU member states gave the green light to accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia after the decision

The North Macedonian Parliament voted in favor of a French-brokered deal that cleared the way for accession negotiations.

68 out of 120 lawmakers in the parliament voted for the deal that foresees an amendment to the constitution to recognize the Bulgarian minority in the country. Opposition lawmakers reportedly did not vote and left the room in protest.

The leader of the main opposition party in North Macedonia, Hristijan Mickoski, said that “nothing was over." He said his party would not support the constitutional amendment that requires a two-thirds majority.

Prime Minister of North Macedonia Dimitar Kovacevski held a press conference shortly after the historic step taken by Skopje. “Today, we are opening a new perspective for our country. We are moving with accelerated steps to join the EU family,” he said. The Prime Minister also announced that the first meeting between the North Macedonian government and the EU would be held on July 19.

The move by Skopje paved the way for Albania to initiate accession talks because Brussels had linked Albania’s membership progress to that of North Macedonia. Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama announced that an Albanian delegation would travel to Brussels immediately to start membership talks.

Petr Fiala, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, announced that the EU Council “has just agreed to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia!” in a tweet. “We have taken another important step towards bringing the Western Balkans closer to the EU. It's a great success of our Presidency,” Prime Minister Fiala added.

Bulgaria’s parliament lifted a veto on North Macedonian-EU talks last month. The move triggered mass protests in the country, which culminated in a vote of no-confidence that toppled the government.

North Macedonia has been a candidate country for 17 years, but accession talks were first blocked by Greece and then later by Bulgaria. Skopje and Athens resolved their differences in 2018 with the Prespa Agreement that saw Macedonia’s name changed to North Macedonia in exchange for Greece’s recognition of Macedonian as an official language and acknowledgment of the right of the Macedonian people’s right to self-determination. 

Then Bulgaria vetoed the membership ambitions of its neighbor, claiming that the Macedonian language was a dialect of Bulgarian and the Macedonian identity was created artificially on an anti-Bulgarian narrative.

The current compromise reached between North Macedonia and Bulgaria will enable the EU to recognize Macedonian as an official language whereas Bulgaria will not have to.