By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Bulgaria’s continued support for Skopje’s EU accession bid – including its support for a start to its EU membership talks that will be decided at the European Council in October – depends on whether the two countries can resolve their disputes over history, Bulgarian leaders said on Monday at a meeting in Sofia held by President Rumen Radev.
Radev stressed that North Macedonia cannot make progress towards the European Union at the expense of Bulgarian interests, insisting that it has its own red lines on these issues.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov agreed that Sofia’s support for North Macedonia’s EU membership has never been unconditional and that the country must not waste the chance to get a date to start long-awaited accession talks this autumn.
“Sofia wants North Macedonia to progress in its EU pre-accession negotiations, together with Albania,” Borissov said.
In a response to the Sofia meeting, North Macedonia’s Prime Minister, Zoran Zaev, on Monday said that he hoped that both countries, which have set up a joint commission to settle open issues, can “very quickly” reach a solution.
“We have signed a treaty with which we accepted we have a common history. Of course, part of it is different for the two countries. In that spirit, I believe the commission will find a solution,” Zaev said in Skopje.
The two neighbours signed a landmark friendship agreement on August 1, 2017. The symbolic date preceded August 2, which both countries celebrate as the anniversary of an anti-Ottoman rising in Macedonia in 1903, known as the Ilinden [St Elijah’s Day] uprising.
Both countries honour the uprising – which resulted in the formation of the short-lived Krushevo Republic in today’s North Macedonia – as their own.
A bitter dispute continues over whether leading figures in the rising, including Gotse Delchev, who is regarded as one of its masterminds, are to be considered Macedonian or Bulgarian.
A joint commission comprising mainly of historians from both sides is working to bridge this and other disagreements.
Since the signing of the friendship treaty, Bulgaria has been a keen supporter of its neighbour’s EU accession. But it is also upping the pressure for a solution to their disputes over history.
The latest move comes days after the German Bundestag called on the German government to support giving North Macedonia and Albania start dates for membership talks at the October summit.
However, North Macedonia has to do more than appease Bulgarian concerns to win an accession talks date this autumn. It will also have to convince France and The Netherlands, who remain sceptical in general about EU enlargement.