The foreign ministers of Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia voiced unanimous support on Saturday for North Macedonia and Albania to start EU membership talks, arguing that bilateral issues should not block the EU’s enlargement into the Western Balkans.
Bulgaria on May 21 said it did not plan to lift its veto on long-delayed accession talks between North Macedonia and the EU over a language and history dispute with its neighbor
Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, wants Skopje to acknowledge that both its identity and language have Bulgarian roots.
Skopje has long insisted Macedonian is a distinct South Slavic language that forms part of the country’s culture and national identity, while Sofia says Macedonian is a regional dialect of Bulgarian.
Unanimity is required from all EU member for the adoption of the negotiating framework.
The Czech Republic’s Kulhánek said it is “not fair” for one EU member nation to condition the enlargement process on a bilateral dispute. “This is a crucial time, and we cannot allow [the process] to be stuck with such demands,” he said.
On Friday, Zoran Zaev, North Macedonia’s prime minister, said the two EU officials (Olivér Várhelyi, commissioner for enlargement, and Augusto Santos Silva, Portuguese Foreign Minister) presented a proposal that provided a “good basis” for resolving the country’s dispute with Bulgaria.
North Macedonia applied for EU membership in 2004 and received a positive assessment from the European Commission a year later.
EU leaders agreed to formal accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia after Skopje settled a nearly three-decade-long dispute with neighboring Greece over the country´s name, which saw it renamed North Macedonia.
Western Balkan countries are at different stages of EU membership talks. Serbia and Montenegro have already started negotiating some chapters of their membership agreements. Kosovo and Bosnia have signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement, the first step to membership.