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Bulgaria and North Macedonia agree to improve relations after talks

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By AP  with Euronews
Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov (L) and North Macedonia's Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski (R) shake hands during a news conference, 18 January 2022.
Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov (L) and North Macedonia's Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski (R) shake hands during a news conference, 18 January 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski

The new prime ministers of Bulgaria and North Macedonia have agreed to improve relations after talks in Skopje.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and his North Macedonian counterpart Dimitar Kovačevski said that their “common goal is to create a better future” for both countries.

Petkov's visit to Skopje came only two days after North Macedonia’s parliament approved the country’s new cabinet, led by Social Democrat leader Kovačevski.

Relations between the two Balkan countries soured in 2020 after Bulgaria blocked North Macedonia’s bid to join the European Union.

Sofia had argued that Skopje had failed to honour a 2017 agreement regarding the countries' shared history and language.

The decision angered North Macedonia, which had just recently settled a similar, decades-old dispute with another EU member Greece that had cleared the way for accession talks.

“We have promised each other that we will use new energy to improve our relations with respect,” Kovačevski said at a joint press conference on Tuesday.

He added that both governments will have a joint meeting in Sofia next week to form cooperation groups in economic issues, infrastructure, European integration, trade, education, culture, and history.

“I’m a huge optimist for the new dynamics and can assure you that the results will be visible every week,” said Petkov.

Kovačevski told reporters that Bulgaria has agreed to call its neighbour “North Macedonia" in bilateral communications, a name which Sofia said implied territorial aspirations toward Bulgaria.

“Resolving the issue on the usage of the short name is the first huge step in our chapter, and this move provides optimism for the future,” Kovačevski said.

Sofia also insists that North Macedonia’s ethnic Bulgarian minority must be constitutionally recognised but rejects its neighbour’s argument that a Macedonian minority also exists in Bulgaria.

Six Western Balkan countries — Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia — are on different stages in their quests to join the EU.

Serbia and Montenegro have made the greatest progress, while Albania’s bid has also been blocked as a result of the dispute between Bulgaria and North Macedonia.