Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov (L) and North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski (R) in Sofia, Bulgaria, January 24, 2022. Photo EPA-EFE/VASSIL DONEV
As France made last-ditch efforts to unblock North Macedonia’s EU accession process, currently stalled by Bulgaria, ahead of this week’s EU summit, North Macedonian experts expressed strong doubts about to the French proposal.
During a debate held in Skopje on Monday, experts said if the media leaks about the unpublished draft were correct, it could further weaken the country’s position and further complicate the EU enlargement process .
One of the main concerns during the debate organized by the Institute for Democracy-Societas Civilis and the Institute for European Politics, two Skopje-based think tanks, was a flagged provision in the proposal.
It supposedly says that before starting EU accession negotiations, North Macedonia should include Bulgarians in the country’s constitutional preamble as one of the constituent ethnicities that form the state.
“If we accept this proposal, it would put us in a very unpleasant and self-destructive situation as a country,” Societas Civilis leader Marko Trosanovski said during the debate.
He argued that while this would allow Brussels and the French EU Presidency to brag about their success on the EU enlargement agenda, in reality North Macedonia would not be able to keep its promises and would remain blocked.
“We cannot deliver a qualified majority [a two-thirds majority in parliament] to insert Bulgarians into the constitution and we will not be able to do that in the foreseeable future,” he said.
“It would leave the country in a state of weightlessness where on the one hand we will have launched the EU negotiations but we will not be able to make any progress, so we will be stuck in internal, inter-ethnic and intra-Macedonian antagonisms,” he said. said Trosanovsky. .
He was referring to the government’s slim majority in parliament and the strong opposition of the opposition to such a constitutional change.
North Macedonia does not recognize Bulgarians as a constituent entity.
Moreover, experts said the proposal would only strengthen Bulgarian arguments, some of which deny the existence of Macedonian identity and language as distinct from Bulgarian – bringing them into the so-called “negotiating box” of the country with Brussels.
Concretely, this would mean that Bulgarian requirements would become Brussels requirements. North Macedonia has always insisted that it is not within the competence of Brussels to meddle in questions of identity.
According to former North Macedonian foreign minister and European affairs minister Nikola Dimitrov, this would set a dangerous precedent where a bilateral issue would become part of Brussels’ agenda.
“The French proposal will not lead us to EU membership,” Dimitrov said. “It takes us down a narrow lane which is very complicated, laden with Bulgaria’s demands, and it sets precedents for other countries to come after us,” Dimitrov said.
During the debate, the two think tanks presented a document containing their common opinion on the Bulgarian blockade and on the red lines that North Macedonia cannot cross.
In the opinion, titled “Bulgarian veto to European integration of Macedonia: what kind of apple can Macedonia bite into?” some of the main points are that the country cannot accept the introduction of monitoring mechanisms of the 2017 friendship agreement with Bulgaria in the EU negotiations through the negotiating framework, and that the amendment of the constitution should not be accepted as a precondition for the start of EU accession talks.
Furthermore, he states that there must be firm guarantees on the Macedonian language in the EU negotiating document and that in case of progress in the bilateral dispute, Bulgaria must promise not to raise even more problems later in the negotiations.
The French proposal, which has not been shown to the public, was sent to the two countries at the end of last week. With some 11 days to go until the end of France’s EU presidency, it is seen as a last-ditch breakthrough effort, with very little chance of success.
One of the main obstacles is the current political turbulence in Bulgaria, where the government majority collapsed last week, partly because of the dispute with North Macedonia and a vote of no confidence expected this week in the government of Prime Minister Kiril Petkov.