North Macedonian Minister of European Affairs Nikola Dimitrov [L] and the German Minister for Europe, Michael Roth in Skopje. Photo: sep.gov.mk
German Europe Minister Michael Roth said during a visit to Skopje that there was a chance of a breakthrough between Bulgaria and North Macedonia which would allow the start of accession negotiations to the Much delayed EU from North Macedonia on June 22 at the EU Council.
Roth addressed the issue on Wednesday after speaking with his host, North Macedonian European Affairs Minister Nikola Dimitrov.
“I’m grateful to our friends here… [in North Macedonia] and in Bulgaria because we now have a great chance to come up with a solution that could be accepted by all parties as early as June, ”he said.
Portuguese [EU] the Presidency is actively working on such a solution, and we… in Berlin support it as much as we can, ”Roth added.
Asked what had sparked this sudden optimism, Roth said: “Now we all see clearly that we need credible successes in the Western Balkans, not because it’s in your area. [North Macedonia’s] but because it is also in our own interests to have stability, regional reconciliation, security and democracy. This is of the utmost importance for the EU ”.
Roth’s host Dimitrov said he was also a cautious optimist on a possible breakthrough, but didn’t want to blow expectations out of proportion.
Bulgaria last year blocked the start of negotiations for North Macedonia’s EU membership, challenging the history, language and identity of North Macedonia, which it says has Bulgarian roots.
Although both sides have said they are ready to continue talks, the government in Skopje insists it cannot compromise on sensitive issues such as national identity.
Earlier this week, EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi and Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Silva, whose country holds the EU presidency, made a brief diplomatic tour of the two countries.
During their visits to Skopje and Sofia, they presented a new plan to overcome the problem, details of which have not been officially released to the public.
This week Bulgarian President Rumen Radev also appeared to calm the tone towards North Macedonia a bit and also revealed parts of the plan.
On Tuesday, after a several-month standoff in negotiations, mainly due to the Bulgarian elections, Radev raised the possibility of a solution and the start of North Macedonian membership negotiations in June.
Radev said North Macedonia must now send Bulgaria a timetable to respond to Bulgaria’s demands, which, if passed by the Bulgarian parliament, could lead to a breakthrough.
“It is expected that in the second part of June there will be further movements around the issue with North Macedonia’s path to the EU,” Radev said in Brussels on Wednesday, adding that all other EU countries are interested in such a development.
However, he reiterated that Skopje must be aware that its path to the EU is mainly through Sofia.
The calmer tones and heightened optimism come as Radev and North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski embark on a two-day visit to Rome to jointly pay homage to Slavic Saints, Saints Cyril and Methodius, celebrated in both countries and throughout the Slavic world.
The joint trip is a largely symbolic gesture, but is also seen as an opportunity to restore trust between the two parties.