FILE - People protest in front of the parliament building in Skopje, North Macedonia, late Tuesday, July 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski, File)
SKOPJE, North Macedonia — European Union and U.S. leaders are urging North Macedonia’s parliament to accept a French proposal that will move the tiny Balkan country closer toward EU membership and overcome objections by Bulgaria.
“At this critical moment in European history, marked by the unjustifiable aggression carried out by Russia against Ukraine, advancing Albania and North Macedonia’s EU path is key to strengthening the cohesion and resilience of the entire European continent,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a joint statement Saturday.
“We welcome a compromise proposal which takes into account the interests and concerns of both North Macedonia and Bulgaria based on mutual respect, trust, and understanding. The sovereign decision of the Parliament of North Macedonia will be important to move forward,” they said.
“The European Union and the United States are committed to closer cooperation in the Western Balkans. Ensuring stability and prosperity and making their European and Euro-Atlantic future a reality remains our common goal,” they added.
North Macedonia has been a candidate for EU membership for 17 years. The country received the green light to begin accession talks in 2020, but no date for the start of the negotiations has been set.
Bulgaria has used its power as an EU member to block North Macedonia’s membership.
Political tensions in North Macedonia have been on the rise with violent nightly protests since French President Emmanuel Macron announced at the NATO summit in Madrid that he believed “a compromise solution” had been achieved.
Macron’s proposal envisages concessions from both sides. The government in Skopje would commit to changing its constitution to recognize a Bulgarian minority, protect minority rights and banish hate speech, as Bulgaria, an EU member since 2007, has demanded.
The French leader stressed the proposal doesn’t question the official existence of a Macedonian language, but he noted that, like all deals, it “rests on compromises and on a balance.”
In North Macedonia, both President Stevo Pendarovski and the government of Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski backed the proposal as a reasonable compromise. Accepting it “will be neither a historic triumph, as one camp would call it, nor a historic failure or debacle, as those in the other camp say,” Pendarovski said.
The government has stressed the proposal does not endanger national interests or identity. But the center-right main opposition party, the VMRO-DPMNE, as well as others, disagree, saying the deal favors Bulgarian demands that question North Macedonia’s history, language, identity, culture and heritage.
In Bulgaria, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov’s centrist government was toppled in a no-confidence vote on June 22. A junior governing partner quit the fragile four-party coalition, describing Petkov’s willingness to lift the veto of North Macedonia as a “national betrayal.”
Bulgaria has accepted the French proposal, which now requires the backing of North Macedonia’s parliament. A plenary session has not been scheduled yet.
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