site.btaUPDATED Sofia-Skopje Relations Resurface in Presidential Consultations

Sofia-Skopje Relations Resurface in Presidential Consultations
Sofia-Skopje Relations Resurface in Presidential Consultations
President Radev (righ) and TISP floor leader Toshko Yordanov (BTA Photo)

The issue of Sofia's relations with the Republic of North Macedonia resurfaced Tuesday during consultations of President Rumen Radev with the formerly power-sharing There Is Such a People (TISP) party. They met as part of the President's round of talks with the political forces in Parliament before an attempt is made to form a new government after the resignation of Prime Minister Kiril Petkov's. "As far as the Republic of North Macedonia is concerned, the big sin of the Bulgarian political class of the past 30 years is that they forgot the Macedonian Bulgarians," Radev said.

TISP Floor Leader Toshko Yordanov urged the President to declassify the verbatim record from a January 10 meeting of the Consultative Council on National Security (CCNS), which focused on the European integration of Skopje. He argued that this will show who is telling the truth and who is lying "because hypocrisy and lying are part of the communication in Bulgarian politics". 

The President made it clear that what TISP want is not an option, explaining that the participants in the CCNS meetings need to know that they are free to speak their mind when they are in the President's Office. He reminded TISP that he had only declassified the verbatim records from one CCNS meeting, on Corpbank's failure, but that was only after all participants were informed in advance and gave their consent.

Radev said that "the issue about the discrimination of our compatriots in the Republic of North Macedonia started to be raised a year ago when Bulgaria was about to reconfirm its veto on the start of Skopje's accession talks, and then again in October 2021 at the second Council on enlargement, where I upheld the veto, but communicating clearly with our European partners that it was not a bilateral problem, but a European one, because it concerned the EU groundwork, including the Copenhagen criteria, human rights and non-discrimination. It was then that the European leaders started to understand the crux of the problem. […] Back then, I said that the human rights of our compatriots is what matters the most, and the awareness was created among the EU leaders that these problems need to be addressed," said Radev. "That is why I raised the issue at the Consultative Council on National Security - because the key condition must be revising the Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia to make sure Bulgarians get equal rights and be added on a par with the other state-establishing peoples," said Radev.

He thanked TISP for supporting him at the January 10 CCNS meeting. "I am not going to comment the other participants but they did not have that courage and European attitude back then. Our political class embraced this approach only when it came from [French President] Macron. I am grateful to him because that was finally put on paper," he added. 

The President further said that he had expected more from the protocol "because it contains the guarantees and the details on the other issues". "The French proposal guarantees the human rights but the cultural and historic heritage, the school books, ending hate speech and the behaviour of public media are included in the protocol. If I had received support from the Prime Minister, his ministers and the other parties at the January meeting of the CCNS, to make this an imperative condition, we would not be doing it in the last moment."

Sofia-Skopje relations

For two years Sofia consistently blocked the start of the Republic of North Macedonia's EU accession talks, insisting that Skopje should first add Bulgarians to its Constitution and meet the conditions in its Goodneighbourliness Treaty with Bulgaria (abandoning hate speech against Bulgaria, the distortion of historical facts in textbooks and elsewhere and the discrimination against its citizens who identify themselves as Bulgarians). On June 24, Bulgaria's Parliament voted to pass a draft resolution, moved by the power-sharing Democratic Bulgaria, mandating the outgoing Cabinet to approve the draft EU accession Negotiating Framework with North Macedonia and the draft Council Conclusions on enlargement with that country as proposed by the French EU Council Presidency subject to four conditions (inclusion of Bulgarians in North Macedonia's Constitution; that nothing in Skopje's EU accession process should be interpretable as recognition by Bulgaria of the existence of a "Macedonian language"; that guarantees are provided that good-neighbourliness will be kept as a horizontal criterion until the end of the EU accession negotiations and that the EC will keep the Council updated on the fulfilment of that criterion; and, last, that the periodic review of the implementation of the 2017 Treaty of Friendship between Bulgaria and North Macedonia be made public within the framework of the negotiations process).

The resolution furthermore provides for the inclusion in the Negotiating Framework a reference to the bilateral protocols under Article 12 of the Good-neighbourliness Treaty in connection with the adoption by the EU Council of the EU common positions for the intergovernmental conferences. This gives Bulgaria direct control over the process through its participation in the Council, in addition to the guarantees provided by the Negotiating Framework.

The January 10 CCNS meeting

The CCNS meeting in question had a single item on the agenda - the Bulgarian position on the enlargement of the EU into the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania - was held with the participation of Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, representatives of the parliamentary groups, the Ministers of Finance, of the Interior, of Defence, and a Deputy Foreign Minister, as well as the leaders of the State Agency for National Security and the National Intelligence Agency.

Based on the discussions, the CCNS adopted the following proposals to the executive and the legislature: 

1. Conducting the country's foreign policy, the Council of Ministers should adhere to Bulgaria's national position, complying with the requirements arising from the Goodneighbourliness Treaty of 2017, the Framework Position of 2019 and the Declaration of the 44th National Assembly.

2. Giving consent for the start of negotiations for the membership of North Macedonia in the EU should not be bound by deadlines, but by achieving real results, especially regarding the rights of Macedonian Bulgarians.

3. The executive power should continue to work on reporting on the implementation of the 2017 Treaty in the negotiation process for the membership of North Macedonia in the EU.

4. The executive should prepare and provide in terms of personnel and finances an action plan with measures to achieve tangible progress in all areas of bilateral relations with North Macedonia.

5. The executive should propose to the partners in North Macedonia the establishment of joint working groups in the areas, in accordance with the 2017 Treaty to intensify bilateral relations.

6. The executive should take measures to accelerate the construction of Corridor VIII together with North Macedonia and Albania as a single project in its entirety: motorway, railway, energy, and digital connectivity.

7. The National Assembly should propose to the legislature of North Macedonia the establishment of a structured dialogue between parliamentary committees and friendship groups to build trust and support the overall process.

At the time of the meeting and later on, until TISP's withdrawal from the government in early June, they have consistently accused the Prime Minister of pursuing his own agenda on relations with Skopje, making secretly promises to the EU that the Bulgarian veto on the start of Skopje's talks be lifted in disregard of the decisions of Parliament and the CCNS - which Kiril Petkov has denied.

The Prime Minister's policy on North Macedonia was mentioned as one of the two problems that have prompted TISP to withdraw its four ministers from the Kiril Petkov government, essentially precipitating its fall after a no-confidence vote in Parliament, initiated by the opposition GERB. 

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By 03:25 on 12.08.2022 Today`s news

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