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24th Sep 2021

Bulgaria's spat with North Macedonia goes to MEP vote

  • North Macedonia is seeking to join the European Union (Photo: Zlatevska DNEVNIK)

Bulgaria's spat with North Macedonia is rousing tensions among some MEPs.

The European Parliament on Thursday (25 March) will vote on the issue, as part of North Macedonia's stalled accession talks to the European Union.

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Bulgaria last year harpooned North Macedonia's path to accession. Sofia is upset over issues tied to language and history, in moves widely panned by other member states.

An amendment, tabled by left-leaning MEPs, has now triggered a further backlash among some Bulgarian counterparts.

The MEPs want Bulgarian authorities to stop issuing "provocative statements" against North Macedonia. They also praise North Macedonia's "mature and balanced response" to Bulgaria's onslaught.

Angel Dzhambazki, a 42-year Bulgarian conservative MEP, has described the amendment as "heinous, incendiary and deceitful".

In an email, obtained by EUobsever, Dzhambazki evokes historical references dating back to the year 900.

He cites King Samuil of Bulgaria and Gotse Delchev, and he notes the Cyrillic alphabet was commissioned by the Bulgarian Knyaz Boris.

"Our history, our identity and our heritage are not up for discussion," he says, demanding the MEPs withdraw the amendment.

One of the MEPs who tabled it was Dutch Green MEP Tineke Strik.

Asked if she would heed Dzhambazki's demand, she said no.

"We don't see really a destruction from the side of North Macedonia, we really see more a kind of polluting process by the Bulgarian authorities," she said.

She noted that the Bulgarian demands over identity have nothing to do with the criteria needed for EU accession.

She also said Bulgaria's blockade risks eroding EU credibility in the country and region.

"They need to have that perspective and we need to deliver," she said.

The Balkan state had spent decades resolving a name dispute over 'Macedonia' with Greece. The two sides found a solution in the 2018 Prespa agreement, clearing a path for EU accession talks.

North Macedonia's prospective for accession then gained pace early last year, following a meeting by EU foreign ministers.

But Bulgaria in November then vetoed the talks, sparking a new crisis which critics say plays into the hands of nationalists.

A high representative from the North Macedonia government told EUobserver that the latest debacle is more complicated than simply the name dispute with Greece.

"With Bulgaria it seems less tangible, but more complicated - just because it is less tangible", he said.

The representative asked not to be named out of fear of enflaming tensions ahead of Bulgarian elections, where the issue is gaining traction.

He said other countries in the region, like Serbia and Bosnia, may renege on sorting their own problems, if North Macedonia's accession fails to advance.

"What is going on seems like a never-ending story, whatever we do it is never enough," he said.

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