North Macedonia parliament votes for deal with Bulgaria, clearing way for EU membership talks

Monday, July 18, 2022

The debate room of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia.
Image: Alekishere.

On Saturday, North Macedonia's parliament voted to accept a French-brokered deal, removing Bulgaria's opposition to the country joining the European Union (EU) in exchange for North Macedonian concessions.

The agreement was passed by the 120-member chamber with 68 votes in favour. Opposition members abstained from the vote, leaving the chamber in protest.

Announced by French President Emmanuel Macron last month, the proposed agreement would see North Macedonia agree to modify its constitution to recognise a Bulgarian minority, protect minority rights and banish hate speech, meeting Bulgarian demands. Amending the constitution may prove difficult as this would require a two-thirds majority or 80 votes within parliament and opposition parties with 46 votes between them have said they will not agree to this change, denouncing the proposal as a concession to Bulgaria’s questioning of North Macedonia’s culture, language, and identity. Macron has stressed the deal does not question the existence of a Macedonian language and both he and North Macedonia's ruling coalition have called the proposal a compromise.

The proposal has also proved controversial in Bulgaria, where it has been accepted by Prime Minister Kiril Petkov. Petkov's agreement to lift the veto on North Macedonian membership of the EU has been called a "national betrayal" by some of his allies, with the Bulgarian government collapsed by a no-confidence vote on June 22.

North Macedonia has been an EU candidate country for 17 years, with approval for membership talks being blocked by Greece and then by Bulgaria. North Macedonia's Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski announced after the deal had been agreed to on Saturday that accession talks would begin on July 19.

The deal also clears the way for Albania to begin accession talks, as the EU has linked its progress to North Macedonia's. Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama stated a delegation would travel to Brussels on Monday to start membership talks.