Bulgaria, underlining that it wants to see Skopje taking real steps towards good neighbourly relations, has said that it would not support this week’s meetings of European leaders giving Macedonia a date for the start of European Union accession negotiations.
This emerged from a statement by President Rossen Plevneliev’s office after Plevneliev held talks with Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, and from a media interview by Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov.
According to the statement by the President’s office, Plevneliev and Borissov were categorical that Bulgaria supports Macedonia’s EU prospects, but not unconditionally, and the building of good neighbourly relations was top priority among the required EU membership criteria that Macedonia should fulfil.
Bulgaria repeatedly has said that it wants to see the EU expanded to include all the countries of the Western Balkans but at the same time also has said that progress towards accession depends on the fulfillment of all criteria formally required for membership.
The question of giving a membership talks start date to Macedonia was on the agenda of a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers at the bloc’s EU General Affairs Council on December 11 2012. It was also expected to be discussed at the European Council meeting of heads of state and government on December 13.
Speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio ahead of the meeting, Foreign Minister Mladenov said that to get Bulgaria’s support for starting EU accession talks, Macedonia should show that it meets all the criteria, including the one on good neighbourly relations.
Mladenov said that he awaited a decision on December 11 that would take into account and respect the European criteria, the interests of the region and Bulgaria’s position.
He said that for Bulgaria, it was important for there to be a focus on good neighbourly relations between Macedonia and Bulgaria and ending the anti-Bulgarian campaign from the side of Macedonia.
Bulgaria had no interest in Macedonia being isolated or going backwards but instead wanted its neighbouring country to progress, but this meant that it should keep to its undertakings.
Plevneliev’s statement said that the Prime Minister and President both held the view that Macedonia’s EU membership prospects would be unlocked not through propaganda and marketing campaigns but through real actions towards strengthening good neighbourly relations with Bulgaria.
Bulgaria has proposed the signing of a formal agreement on good neighbourly relations, friendship and co-operation in line with a 1999 declaration, reaching agreement on joint commemoration and celebration of people and events shared in the histories of the two countries, termination of the anti-Bulgarian campaign and an end to manipulation of historical facts.
Greece, which also has fraught relations with Skopje mainly because of the dispute about the use of the name Macedonia, earlier rejected reports in the media in Athens that Greece would agree to the opening of EU membership negotiations with Macedonia without the name dispute being resolved.
On December 8, Greece’s foreign ministry said, “this does not correspond the reality of the situation. Greece’s stance remains firm and consistent: that compliance with all the conditions and criteria that have been set by unanimous decisions of the EU is a necessary prerequisite for the opening of accession negotiations. Uppermost among these conditions is respect for good neighbourly relations, which means the finding of a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue.”
On the eve of the EU General Affairs Council meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers, Macedonian deputy prime minister in charge of EU affairs, Teuta Arifi, said: “I have a reserved optimism that the EU will manage to find a good, a fair and creative formulation that will enable as to resume the process which has already started so that we get ready to begin negotiations”.
(Photo of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, left, and President Rossen Plevneliev: V Nikolov/president.bg)