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Bulgarian lawmakers vote to unblock North Macedonia's bid to join the EU

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By Euronews  with AP
European Council President Charles Michel and Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov in Brussels, 23 June 2022
European Council President Charles Michel and Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov in Brussels, 23 June 2022   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

Bulgaria's parliament voted on Friday in favour of a proposal that could lead it to lift its veto on the opening of negotiations for the accession of North Macedonia to the European Union, paving the way for the bloc to move ahead with expansion plans in the Western Balkans.

The largest opposition party GERB, led by the former PM Boyko Borissov -- in power when the veto was first issued in 2020, as North Macedonia was about to begin accession talk together with Albania -- is said to have accepted the so-called French proposal outlining a compromise solution, allowing the motion to pass.

Bulgaria has previously insisted that North Macedonia must formally recognise that its language and identity -- including major historical figures -- are essentially Bulgarian, mention a Bulgarian minority in its constitution, and stamp out alleged anti-Bulgarian rhetoric. 

The French proposal says that "the negotiating framework and the Council conclusions can have no reference to elements that can be interpreted as recognition of 'Macedonian language' by Bulgaria", according to documents made available by Macedonian media outlets.

North Macedonia, which has been a candidate country since 2005, said that its identity and language were not open for discussion and that the solution must be based on European values.

Prior to the Bulgarian veto, North Macedonia was also blocked from joining the EU and NATO by Greece. 

The two resolved their issues after signing the Prespa Agreement in 2019, clearing the path for Skopje to continue on its EU membership path until Bulgaria blocked it again.

France, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, had made last-ditch efforts this week to resolve an ethnic and cultural dispute, seemingly with some success.

The decision by the Bulgarian parliament was adopted with 170 votes in favour, 37 against and 21 abstentions, according to deputy speaker Atanas Atanasov.

On Twitter, Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov praised the parliament for taking “a historic decision,” adding that the integration of the Western Balkans was of “strategic interest of the EU”.

The proposal is now pending approval by the parliament of North Macedonia before the veto is considered to be lifted.

The vote came just one day after Ukraine and Moldova were both granted EU candidate status, partly in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.