The nation of Bulgaria refused to give its approval for North Macedonia, the former nation of FYROM, to begin the preliminary talks to join the European Union on Tuesday.
The surprise move in effect stops the accession process of the small neighboring Balkan country to the powerful union of European states.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva stated that as of now, Sofia could not approve of the start of the long-delayed accession negotiations between the 27-member Union and the recently-renamed nation, which had just last year ratified the Prespa Agreement, in which the country would be renamed North Macedonia.
The Bulgarian official said that the problem lies with continuing misunderstandings over the history and the language used by North Macedonia. However, she added that the issue of joining the EU would still remain on the table.
According to a report from Reuters, after all the EU ministers had held a virtual meeting on this issue and others, Zaharieva declared “Bulgaria, at this stage, cannot back the draft of the negotiation framework with the Republic of North Macedonia and the holding of the first intergovernmental conference.”
It had been expected that the accession proceedings with not only North Macedonia but the tiny nation of Albania as well might take place at a major conference between the EU foreign ministers coming up in December.
Reportedly, Zaharieva said that her country still backs the EU negotiation framework for Albania.
The surprise announcement is another thorn in the side of North Macedonia, which under its previous Prime Minister had undergone a painful negotiation process which involved changes to its constitution, its official language and its very name.
The use of the name “Macedonia” is still extremely controversial in neighboring Greece, whose northern region of Macedonia has a recorded history going back into antiquity.
It was widely understood at the time that the country’s adoption of these stipulations would make it possible for it to join with not only NATO but the powerful European Union as well.
North Macedonia successfully joined the NATO alliance this year.
The nation of France had come forth last year, however, with serious objections to North Macedonia and Albania’s accession to the bloc on the grounds that they had a poor track record of dealing with corruption and their history of democratic elections was shaky.
A host of smaller nations on the outskirts of Europe — North Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia — all sites of bloody internecine warfare or political strife until relatively recently, are now attempting to join the all-powerful economic bloc of the EU.
Their supporters hope that not only will these small nations benefit by improving their living standards by joining with the rest of Europe; an added offset will be that they will be less susceptible to Russian and Chinese influence in the region.
North Macedonia, after settling — at least on pape r– its longstanding disagreements with Greece, still must surmount additional issues with Bulgaria, which has called for guarantees as part of the EU negotiations that Skopje will deliver on the 2017 friendship treaty between the two nations which dealt with simmering historical problems.
Bulgaria has stated that is additionally wants guarantees that North Macedonia will not support any claims for the small Macedonian minority living in Bulgaria and also desires that official EU documents avoid any mention of the so-called “Macedonian language,” which it says derives from Bulgarian.
The language issue was also a sore point in the Prespa Agreement, signed with Greece in the Summer of 2018.