Austria urged North Macedonia to include Bulgarians in its Constitution

World » SOUTHEAST EUROPE | March 29, 2023, Wednesday // 16:52
Bulgaria: Austria urged North Macedonia to include Bulgarians in its Constitution

"It makes sense and it is necessary for the Republic of North Macedonia to make changes to its constitution", said the President of Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen, at a joint press conference with the President of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski. This was reported by BTA.

We are talking about changes with which the Bulgarians must be registered as a state-creating nation in the Republic of North Macedonia in the same way as the other ethnic groups in the country are registered. Through the so-called French proposal, which, according to various nationalist circles, Bulgaria should not have accepted, Bulgarian interests in our southwestern neighbor became a priority for the entire EU. Skopje cannot start negotiations with the EU before accepting these changes.

"You have made a difficult but correct choice, your future is in the EU. We have good feedback on the screening process that is currently taking place and we encourage you to make the changes to the constitution, then the EU accession process goes according to plan," said the Austrian President.

He declined to comment on the country's internal political differences over constitutional changes, but said he would urge all political groups in parliament to think about the long-term risks. Van der Bellen pointed out that constitutional changes "should not be dramatized".

The President of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski, recalled that the commitment to include Bulgarians in the country's constitution was accepted with the adoption of the negotiation framework and "those who think they can make a better negotiation framework do not know the procedures in the EU".

"If anyone can negotiate a better negotiating framework, I will be the first to congratulate them, but I assure them not to try to do so because there will be no chance of renegotiating something that has been agreed with 27 member states of the EU, including Bulgaria," Pendarovski pointed out.

According to him, the only way to achieve a two-thirds majority in the parliament is to talk to the opposition and demonstrate with arguments that the very act of including the Bulgarians and other communities in the constitution "in no way threatens Macedonian independence, sovereignty and the European path" of the country.

Pendarovski indicated that he hopes the working group, which will prepare the specific proposals for changes in the constitutional texts, will do so "fairly quickly" and they will enter a parliamentary procedure.

"If by the end of November we don't have a two-thirds majority in Parliament, we will be blocked, this time by our own decision. If the opposition decides not to participate in the working group or the Committee on Constitutional Affairs in Parliament, it is clear that I will also try to organize a conversation, they won't engage in it. I think they are wrong. I urge them to engage on an expert and political level and make their case. When you face the arguments of both sides, I guess they have them too, you will see that we are talking about things that we did 22 years ago. We have established standards for the protection of minorities, we call them parts of peoples here, so there is no dispute that if we add two or three more communities that live here, regardless of their number, the Bulgarians are about 3,500 people, North Macedonia will certainly not fail," said Pendarovski.

That was the number of those who registered as Bulgarians in the last census in the Republic of North Macedonia. However, there are more than 160 thousand people with Bulgarian citizenship.

When asked whether new conditions can be expected to be imposed on the country during the negotiation process, Pendarovski replied that it should not be, but no one could have predicted the conditions that Bulgaria has set in the last two years.

"Because there was a complete consensus, in which the Bulgarian government participated in 2017, 2018, 2019, when with changes in the constitution we added the North to Macedonia, there was a general consensus that there would be no new demands. And now the logical question is, if we make these constitutional changes, will tomorrow or the day after tomorrow some other member or country that blocked us 2.5 years ago not remember to make a new request? I hope such things do not happen", said Pendarovski, who stated that the EU itself should not allow any member state to problematize someone's entry into the EU "with something that has nothing to do with the real criteria, values and principles for which it was created and for which it exists".

"Blocking a country due to historical issues is illegal and should not be allowed in modern Europe," Pendarovski said.

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Tags: north macedonia, constitution, Bulgarians, Austria

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