MEPs Spur Sofia, Skopje to Iron out Controversies for the Sake of Common EU Good
Addressing the European Parliament (EP) on Thursday, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi encouraged Skopje and Sofia to redouble their efforts to find a mutually acceptable solution to the pending bilateral issues. The EP is expected to vote later in the day on the progress reports on North Macedonia and three other Western Balkan countries.
"I encourage both parties to act in a constructive manner and to refrain from statements or actions that might undermine the EU's wider interest," the Commissioner said. "It is important that bilateral agreements, including the Prespa Agreement with Greece and the Treaty of Goodneighbourly Relations with Bulgaria continue to be implemented in good faith by all parties," he also said.
In his words, the reforms in North Macedonia should continue. He added that a lot remains to be done in terms of rule of law and countering corruption and organized crime.
Varhelyi expressed the hope that the accession negotiations with North Macedonia will be opened by July.
During Thursday's plenary debate on the progress reports, the rapporteur for North Macedonia, Bulgarian MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk (Renew Europe/Movement for Rights and Freedoms) noted the country's achievements on the long and difficult path of reforms and the concessions made on the road to the EU. The progress report on North Macedonia calls for that country's political formations to refrain from nationalist and provocative rhetoric and insists on additional deeper and faster reforms, Kyuchyuk said.
Bulgarian MEP Andrey Kovatchev (EPP/GERB) said that joining the EU is the fastest way to overcome the consequences of communism. Every person in North Macedonia who publicly declares their Bulgarian origin, is still being discriminated against, Kovatchev argued.
Angel Dzhambazki (ECR/VMRO) said that the fundamental human right of self-determination is being grossly violated in North Macedonia. He said examples of that are the threats against, and pressure on, people who openly say they are of Bulgarian ethnicity.
Alexander Yordanov (EPP/Union of Democratic Forces) said that North Macedonia is not observing the bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation with Bulgaria and continues conducting an anti-Bulgarian campaign.
Petar Vitanov (S&D/Bulgarian Socialist Party) said that the worsening of the confrontation on the North Macedonia issue is used by "fascizoid nationalist parties in Bulgaria as part of their election campaign". "We are in favour of North Macedonia's progress, but it requires goodneighbourly relations," he added.
MEPs of the Greens and the S&D groups called for the launch of accession negotiations with North Macedonia. According to the S&D, the Bulgarian veto on the negotiations is irresponsible and should be withdrawn.
Relations between Sofia and Skopje soured as Bulgaria, reacting to anti-Bulgarian sentiments in North Macedonia and its refusal to take steps towards overcoming hurdles to cooperation, refused to support the EU's negotiating framework for North Macedonia, thus blocking the formal start of EU accession talks with Skopje.
Later, in resolutions adopted by the European Parliament, it was stated that Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia must continue on the path of major reforms. The EP expressed regret that Bulgaria and North Macedonia have not yet reached an understanding on outstanding bilateral issues and encouraged them to reach a compromise on an action plan of concrete measures to overcome this impasse. MEPs recalled previous EP recommendations on discrimination against citizens who openly express their Bulgarian identity or ethnic origin, and noted the lack of progress in their implementation./BTA Correspondent Nikolay Jeliazkov
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