An evening meeting in Skopje between Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Gruevski on February 16 2013 produced upbeat messages on bilateral relations, notably towards a future treaty on good-neighbourly relations.
The meeting took place against a background of frequently troubled relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia because of disputes – especially in the media and popular culture – about history and identity, and also incidents in which Macedonians who identify with Bulgaria have alleged harassment from Skopje authorities.
The other significant background currently is Macedonia’s difficulty in making progress in its EU membership aspirations not only because of foreign relations controversies, especially with Greece, but also Macedonia’s own domestic political crisis that followed the government forcing through its budget in December 2012 in an incident in which opposition MPs and journalists were expelled from parliament. This crisis has led to an opposition boycott and protests and put a question mark over local elections scheduled for March, and has led to European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele cancelling a visit to Skopje out of frustration at the domestic crisis not being resolved.
This background makes the Borissov-Gruevski meeting a potentially positive development for Skopje.
After the meeting, a statement released by the government media offices of Bulgaria and Macedonia said that the two prime ministers had discussed issues related to future progress on the treaty on friendship, good-neighbourly relations and initiatives of mutual interest.
Borissov and Gruevski agreed at the talks that all challenges should be met and overcome in the spirit of European values, the Bulgarian government statement said. They agreed on further developing their political dialogue and putting a new dynamism into summit meetings between the two countries.
“Macedonia and Bulgaria share the vision of a region fully integrated into European and Euro-Atlantic structures, and in the process support of neighbors is essential,” the statement said.
Borissov and Gruevski agreed that good-neighbourly relations between the two countries should be developed through “real actions,” according to the statement. They agreed that arranging joint sittings of the cabinets of the two countries was in the interest of both Bulgaria and Macedonia because it would lay the groundwork for even stronger co-operation in economic relations, energy and infrastructure.
In recent years, Bulgaria has advanced its bilateral relations with a number of countries by holding joint cabinet sittings, including with counterparts from Turkey, Greece and Israel.
Ahead of the meeting, Borissov said that there was “nothing secret” about his meeting with Gruevski.
“We will sit and talk as friends,” said Borissov, who was accompanied on his visit by Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov.
After the meeting, a statement said that it was of great importance to send positive messages to the public that would contribute to overcoming stereotypes and strengthening the atmosphere and spirit of co-operation.
On February 12, Borissov said in Sofia that there was “great progress” in discussions on the treaty on good-neighbourly relations with Macedonia.
(Photo, of Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski, left, and Bulgarian PM Boiko Borissov: government.bg)