North Macedonia should turn toward the path of European Union membership, the president of the EU Commission said on Thursday.
Ursula von der Leyen addressed the country’s deputies at a session in the parliament in the capital, Skopje, and said it will be possible with the adoption of a proposal that will allow North Macedonia to start membership negotiations with the EU next week and remove a veto by Bulgaria.
“The EU Commission has always stood by this country and will continue to stand by it. We believe this is a historic decision. But the decision is yours and yours alone. In the end, it’s your journey,” said Von der Leyen.
She said with the acceptance of the proposal, an intergovernmental conference will be held and the EU Commission will immediately start the screening process, which is the first step in membership negotiations with a negotiation team.
“You can count on me that the negotiation process will respect European principles and standards. You have many successful multi-ethnic societies. You have shown interest in the rule of law, the protection of human rights, these are European values. Changing the Constitution to strengthen fundamental rights will strengthen your commitment to these values, and this automatically marks the first stage of negotiations,” said Von der Leyen.
She advised the country to seize the opportunity and warned that if the door is closed, North Macedonia will be out of the negotiation process.
Meanwhile, the deputies of the largest opposition party attended the session with T-shirts that read “No.”
Moreover, while Von der Leyen were addressing the country’s deputies at the session in the parliament, thousands held a protest against a French proposal that seeks to end North Macedonia’s dispute with Bulgaria, which is blocking Skopje’s bid to join the bloc.
– European proposal to allow negotiations to start
Bulgaria has been blocking North Macedonia’s efforts to join the European Union, accusing it of disrespecting historical and cultural ties. Sofia has made several demands, including the acceptance that the language of North Macedonia is derived from Bulgarian and recognition of a Bulgarian minority in the country.
French President Emmanuel Macron presented a proposal that included resolving the problems between Bulgaria and North Macedonia within the framework of EU negotiations.
The proposal turned into a European proposal after it was approved by EU member states. It envisaged the lifting of Bulgaria’s two-year veto on North Macedonia’s EU membership.
The Bulgarian parliament in late June voted to lift the veto under certain conditions.
The vote came just one day after Ukraine and Moldova were granted EU candidate status, partly in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
According to the terms of the parliament, North Macedonia will remain loyal to the agreement signed in 2017 in the field of friendship, good neighborliness, and cooperation with Bulgaria during the negotiation process with the EU; Bulgarians in North Macedonia will be registered as a “state-forming element” in the constitution; Macedonian will not be considered a language other than Bulgarian and the EU will be the guarantor for the implementation of the conditions.
Although Bulgaria was the first country to recognize North Macedonia as a state, there are debates regarding a shared history that cannot be shared. Discussions on the subject are left to the authority of experts.