With the veto on the opening of negotiations for North Macedonia’s accession to the EU, the Bulgarian government plays the nationalist card, above all for contingent reasons of domestic politics. The consequences, however, are likely to be heavy in the medium and long term, says Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT).
According to author of the article, Francesco Martino, North Macedonia’s European path has turned into a frustrating obstacle race that increasingly resembles an odyssey.
“After Greece’s long veto over the name issue, resolved with the Prespa agreement in 2018, when Macedonia agreed to add the specification “North” to its constitutional name, it is now Bulgaria that says “no” over an issue no less controversial and difficult to understand for most – the historical heritage and the nature of the Macedonian identity and language,” the article reads.
OBCT points out that the dispute over the Macedonian identity and language seemed resolved with the good neighbourly treaty signed in 2017. However, Sofia is not satisfied with how the treaty is being implemented and, in order to unblock the veto, it demands to include its content within the EU negotiating framework for North Macedonia.
“The margins to overcome the impasse exist, but are narrow. If no agreement is reached, the European fate of North Macedonia (but also of Albania, which proceeds in parallel) could dangerously slip over time, fomenting further instability in the area,” the article adds.
The newspaper says that despite everything, many doubted that it would come to a veto, as Skopje’s entry is in the strategic interests of Bulgaria. Since then, however, the balance in Bulgarian internal politics has been upset by very long street protests and the veto therefore seems to be a classic expedient to revive the fortunes of the governing coalition in view of next spring’s elections, fueling a strong dose of nationalist rhetoric on the theme of Macedonian identity which traditionally gathers wide support in Bulgaria.
“The risk is to pay dearly for the gamble made for mere electoral purposes: on the Macedonian question Bulgaria finds itself isolated at a European level, and after having long pursued the line of the “model pupil” at the community level, for the first time it was included in the list of “troublemakers” such as Poland and Hungary, but without the same political weight. Even a last-minute change of mind, which many analysts still believe possible, would still leave an aftermath and doubts about Bulgaria’s credibility,” OBCT says.
As regards North Macedonia, according to the newspaper, the Bulgarian veto has serious consequences, considering that Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has made “EU membership a beacon of Macedonian foreign policy” and further blocking could have repercussions on the stability of his government and the country.
“If it is still not clear who wins the dispute between Sofia and Skopje, it is however possible to identify the loser: the credibility of the EU enlargement process to the Western Balkans. Slowed down over the years by the increasingly visible “enlargement fatigue” and growing resistance from some member states, the inclusion of this part of Europe – which Brussels has always defined a “strategic priority” – is once again the victim of crossed vetoes on bilateral issues sometimes – as in this case – almost incomprehensible to those not directly involved in the dispute,” says author Francesco Martino.
According to him, the clash between Bulgaria and North Macedonia casts a further shadow on the sustainability of the process and on the achievement of the ultimate goal – the inclusion of the entire region in the EU.
“In fact, many Western Balkan countries have bilateral disputes against one or more neighbors – complex, painful disputes rooted in the still fresh wounds of the conflict that dismembered the Yugoslav Federation. The danger that crossed vetoes will lead to stalemate is real: to avoid this scenario, perhaps the time has come to spare the path of accession from the mechanism of unanimity, which can make a country’s European destiny hostage to myopic logics which have little to do with the spirit and strategic priorities of the Union,” Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa’s article reads.