Bulgaria’s Cabinet announced on October 9 a framework position on the European Union accession aspirations of the Republic of North Macedonia and of Albania, stating support while spelling out the conditions on which this support rides.
“Bulgaria welcomes and supports the recommendation of the European Commission to start pre-accession negotiations with both the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania,” according to the document, posted on the Bulgarian government website, and which is to be tabled in the National Assembly in Sofia for debate.
At the same time, Bulgaria should not allow the integration of the Republic of North Macedonia into the EU to be accompanied by European legitimation of a state-sponsored anti-Bulgarian ideology.
“Rewriting the history of part of the Bulgarian people after 1944 is one of the pillars of the anti-Bulgarian ideological construction of Yugoslav totalitarianism.”
Opening negotiations should not be interpreted as a guarantee of membership, but rather as a positive driver for accelerating reforms, strengthening the rule of law and maintaining good neighbourly relations, the document says.
“Progress towards EU membership depends on individual efforts to meet the Copenhagen criteria and the conditionality of the Stabilization and Association Process, including good neighbourly relations. Good neighbourly relations are of horizontal importance and should be evaluated at every stage in the accession process of the candidate countries.”
On North Macedonia, the documents says that the country’s accession to the EU is an important step in ensuring the peace, stable and sustainable development and prosperity of the region.
Bulgaria was the first to recognise the country’s independence and has always supported in principle and consistently its European and Euro-Atlantic perspective, the document says.
Bulgaria’s consistent support for the European prospects of the Republic of North Macedonia was also reflected in the Joint Declaration of February 22 1999, in the Memorandum of Co-operation in the field of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and in the Treaty of Friendship, Neighbourliness and Cooperation of 2017, “which for us is a solid legal basis for good neighbourly relations and co-operation, in accordance with the highest European standards”.
The treaty was expected to solve the decades-old problems and give impetus and new perspective to the development of bilateral relations.
The signing and implementation of this treaty was a condition for Bulgaria’s support for Nato and EU membership of the Republic of North Macedonia.
“In this context, the strict and complete implementation of the letter and spirit of the Treaty of Friendship, Neighbourliness and Co-operation with the Republic of North Macedonia in a manner that guarantees its irreversibility is crucial and remains a prerequisite for progress in the country’s EU accession process.”
The Bulgarian position on the importance of maintaining good neighbourly relations and the implementation of the treaty is invariably represented at all levels and formats. This has led to its being reflected in a number of EU documents, the document says.
“In this regard, while maintaining its consistency, Bulgaria will insist in the text of the Conclusions of the General Affairs Council on October 15 2019 that it is clearly stated that the implementation of the good-neighbourliness treaty will form part of the conditionality applicable in the membership negotiations.
Bulgaria will also present a national declaration, annexed to the Council conclusions, which will build on this Framework Position, the statement said.
In the course of the negotiations on these conclusions, a tendency should be laid down to set the conditions for convening the first Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) with the Republic of North Macedonia.
“Bulgaria’s agreement to hold the first IGC will be linked to real progress in implementing the letter and spirit of the Friendship, Neighbourliness and Co-operation Treaty, including with regard to the activities of the Joint Expert Committee on Historical and Educational Affairs.
The document says that real progress means:
The Republic of North Macedonia should “suspend and refrain from” pursuing a policy, no matter what form, of supporting and promoting claims for recognition of the so-called. “Macedonian minority” in Bulgaria.
The Republic of North Macedonia “unreservedly and promptly” should align its positions and actions in international organisations and forums with Article 11 of the Neighbourliness Treaty, clearly stating that there is no historical or demographic reason to seek minority status for any group of citizens of the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria.
The Council of Europe’s multilateral formats and monitoring mechanisms should not be instrumentalised by the Republic of North Macedonia to exert pressure on Bulgaria on issues related to the rights of persons belonging to minority groups, the document says.
The Republic of North Macedonia should declare, with a note verbal to the UN member states, that adherence to the constitutional changes made to the Republic of North Macedonia in accordance with the Prespa Agreement will be implemented in parallel with strict adherence to the to the Treaty with the Republic of Bulgaria in its entirety, incl. also with regard to the “language clause” of the treaty.
The neighbouring country should state in a note that the use of the short name provided for in the Prespa Agreement refers only to the political entity of the Republic of North Macedonia and not to the geographical region of northern Macedonia, part of which is within Bulgaria.
It should activate a process of rehabilitation of the victims of the Yugoslav Communist regime, repressed because of their Bulgarian self-consciousness, and initiate a process of illuminating the security services of the former Yugoslavia for the assistants of the present-day Republic of North Macedonia;
The document calls for North Macedonia to take systematic measures to remove signs and inscriptions on monuments, memorial plaques and buildings of texts that openly hate Bulgaria, such as those containing qualifications as the “Bulgarian fascist occupier”.
The document also sets out a number of goals for the joint expert committee on historical and educational mattters, including reaching agreement on Gotse Delchev and the Ilinden Uprising.
Political figures, representatives of North Macedonia state institutions, and media financed from the state budget should base their statements and comments on the events and figures agreed about the commission on the texts agreed by the commission, the document said.
At a further stage in the membership negotiations, Bulgaria will insist on including guarantees in the EU’s negotiating positions on separate chapters that the Neighbourliness Treaty will continue to be implemented by the Republic of North Macedonia.
The document, in the section on Albania, says that starting negotiations with only one of the two neighbouring countries could have negative consequences not only for the other, but also for the regional aspect.
The overall assessment of the annual report on Albania is positive and notes that the country has continued to implement important reforms and concrete results that will allow it to start EU membership negotiations, the document says.
“We expect the adoption of secondary legislation on the implementation of the law on minorities, and we expect the rights of the Bulgarian national minority to be maximally guaranteed, including the study, without placing administrative barriers, of literary Bulgarian as a mother tongue in the regions traditionally inhabited by them…but everywhere else in Albania where they currently live.
“We also expect the population census to be conducted to the highest European standards and to reflect real ethnicity.”
The document says that Bulgaria will work for Council conclusions to prepare a decision to open membership negotiations with both the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania.
“At the same time, if there is no consensus on the opening of negotiations with both parties, Bulgaria will comply with the Council’s consensus decision.”
(Photo, of the Cabinet building in Sofia: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)