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North Macedonia is at a crossroads as it debates negotiations for EU membership

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By Borjan Jovanovski
Protests in North Macedonia.
Protests in North Macedonia.   -   Copyright  Euronews

After 17 years of candidate status, North Macedonia has received an invitation to start negotiations with the European Union.

But there are still many hurdles for the small country, including demands from Bulgaria, which has veto power as a current member of the EU. Bulgaria is demanding that North Macedonia recognise its Bulgarian minority and also acknowledge that its language has Bulgarian roots.

Last month, France drafted a proposal for a compromise to address Bulgaria’s concerns.

One of the conditions in the negotiations is the inclusion of the Bulgarian minority into the Constitution of North Macedonia, which would require a two-thirds majority in parliament to pass. In fact, a change to the constitution would require votes from the ethnic Macedonian opposition parties to pass, which will be a challenge.

Protesters, meanwhile, responded to these demands with outrage. One person told Euronews, “[the deal] should be rejected! I don’t think it should be accepted. We are being blackmailed. And we were simply not given the same chance as the other countries, like Serbia and Montenegro”.

Another said: "It cannot be worse than this. The freaks accepted it”.

Daily protests have rocked North Macedonia for the past week, with protests escalating into violence and dozens of police officers injured.

Despite the outburst of violence, the government believes North Macedonia should start membership negotiations.

"We understand all the concerns and emotions of the people, but we are trying to explain that this is about the strategic orientation of our country,” said Bojan Maricic, deputy prime minister for EU integration.

Other politicians are against the move, however.

Aleksandar Nikoloski, vice president of the main opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, told Euronews that they do not support the proposed changes to the constitution.

"We clearly say that we will not support this proposal and changing the constitution because of a simple reason that what is asked from North Macedonia with this proposal and by Bulgaria is going deep into the roots of the nation," he said.