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North Macedonia agrees compromise for EU accession talks: PM

#North #Macedonia #agrees #compromise #accession #talks

North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski announced on Saturday that Skopje had reached a compromise with Bulgaria in a long-running dispute, allowing them to start talks on European Union membership.

EU member Bulgaria had until recently blocked any progress for such talks over a dispute between the countries over linguistic and historical issues.

But last month, Bulgarian MPs approved the lifting of that veto in exchange for EU guarantees that North Macedonia would meet certain requirements on the issues in question.

“Finally, after 17 years, we are starting accession negotiations with the European Union,” Kovacevski told reporters after a parliamentary vote.

He described the agreement as “a historic step”.

“We are one step away from the first government meeting (with the EU),” he said.

“From today we are moving towards the EU at an accelerated pace.”

Earlier, the parliament in Skopje adopted a negotiating framework aimed at protecting North Macedonia’s language and identity, a decision welcomed in Brussels.

“Congratulations to North Macedonia on the vote, which now paves the way for a speedy start to accession negotiations,” tweeted EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“It was a historic opportunity. And you caught them,” she added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also welcomed Skopje’s decision.

“We recognize the difficult compromises that have been considered in this compromise, which recognizes and respects North Macedonia’s cultural identity and the Macedonian language,” he said in a statement.

“A European Union that encompasses the entire Western Balkans, including Albania and North Macedonia, will be stronger and more prosperous.”

– Opposition protests –

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and EU Council President Charles Michel also welcomed Parliament’s decision.

“We welcome you with open arms,” ​​Michel tweeted.

After the vote in the North Macedonian parliament, the deputies in the plenary hall held up both the national flag and that of the EU.

But opposition MPs had already left the hall.

“What the (government) has accepted is a betrayal of Macedonia and the Macedonian people,” the main right-wing nationalist opposition party VMRO-DPMNE said in a statement.

“This is complete Bulgarianization and assimilation of Macedonia,” she added, denouncing Kovacevski as a traitor. Kovacevski leads a left-wing government dominated by the SDSM party.

Opposition demonstrators demonstrated against the agreement in front of Parliament, as they have been doing every day for more than a week.

Bulgaria had held up progress in EU accession talks for both North Macedonia and Albania since 2020.

Last month’s parliamentary vote in Sofia to end these objections came with certain conditions attached.

The decision states that Skopje must include Bulgarians in its constitution “equally with other peoples”; and implement a Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighborliness and Cooperation signed with Bulgaria in 2017.

This treaty was designed to end discrimination and hate speech.

Both are regulated in the agreement drawn up during the French EU Council Presidency in the first half of the year.

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