Flags of Bulgaria and North Macedonia - © NINA IMAGES - Shutterstock

 © NINA IMAGES - Shutterstock 

With the veto on the opening of negotiations for North Macedonia's accession to the EU, the Bulgarian government plays the nationalist card, above all for contingent reasons of domestic politics. The consequences, however, are likely to be heavy in the medium and long term

25/11/2020 -  Francesco Martino Sofia

(A preview of this article was published on Europea )

North Macedonia and the European Union: a long engagement, which over the years has turned into a frustrating obstacle race that increasingly resembles an odyssey. After Greece's long veto over the name issue, resolved with the Prespa agreements in 2018, when Macedonia agreed to add the specification "North" to its constitutional name, it is now Bulgaria that says "no" over an issue no less controversial and difficult to understand for most – the historical heritage and the nature of the Macedonian identity and language.

After long threats, on November 17 Sofia decided to veto the opening of the negotiating framework of North Macedonia. "We believe that Skopje is not ready", declared Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, thus freezing the government of Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who replied by speaking of an "unfair decision".

Yet, the dispute with Bulgaria – where the opinion is widespread that a separate Macedonian identity developed only after the end of the Second World War under the violent pressure of the Yugoslav authorities, and that the Macedonian language is only a dialect of the Bulgarian one – seemed resolved even before starting, thanks to the good neighbourly treaty signed in 2017.

Sofia, however, is not satisfied with how the treaty is being implemented and, in order to unblock the veto, it demands to include its content within the negotiating framework. There are two other requests on the table: not to use the term "Macedonian language" in the documents (but that of "official language of the Republic of North Macedonia") and to obtain assurance that Skopje does not claim its own minorities in Bulgaria.

The margins to overcome the impasse exist, but are narrow: Germany's EU presidency semester, considered the best window of opportunity to resolve the issue given the political investment made by Berlin, ends at end of December. If no agreement is reached, the European fate of North Macedonia (but also of Albania, which proceeds in parallel) could dangerously slip over time, fomenting further instability in the area.

Sofia's match