Bulgaria, North Macedonia seek way to resolve Balkan dispute
Bulgaria’s new premier and his freshly sworn-in counterpart in North Macedonia made a joint push to resolve a regional dispute that would open a path for the former Yugoslav republic to begin accession talks with the European Union.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov traveled to North Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, on Tuesday for talks with that country’s newly elected premier, Dimitar Kovacevski. The two pledged to come to an agreement over a lingering dispute over North Macedonia’s name - and set up a direct flight between their two capitals within the next two months.
“We’re opening a new window for cooperation, which we believe will end with a new friendly act as a good neighbuor - support for our European integration,” Kovacevski, whose government was approved by parliament this week, told reporters at a joint press briefing on Tuesday.
“From now on, progress will be measured with concrete results,” Petkov said.
The stakes are high for North Macedonia, a landlocked republic of 2 million that changed its name to break a deadlock with Greece and join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2020. Greece had accused the nation of territorial claims over its own region of Macedonia.
Now North Macedonia’s EU membership process is being blocked by Bulgaria, which has raised disputes over the country’s history and language - as well as the treatment of Bulgarian nationals. Petkov, who took office in the EU’s poorest member state last month, has pledged to resolve the dispute.
The leaders should “put all the discussions on all the win-wins between the two countries,” Petkov told Bloomberg News in an interview this month. The Bulgarian leader’s visit to the Balkan neighbor is the first in more than two years.
But Petkov’s task may be difficult. More than 70% of Bulgarians support the veto, and he runs a broad coalition in which two of his junior partners have taken a hard line against Skopje.
Kovacevski has vowed to seek a path forward, but has said he won’t negotiate over his people’s identity and language.
The Balkans have been at the centre of a tug-of war between Russia and the West. Most countries in the region seeking to join the EU have had little progress in the face of an enlargement agenda placed on the back burner in Brussels.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.