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Bulgarian PM urges North Macedonia to show courage and accept French deal on EU membership – POLITICO

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Outgoing Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov on Friday urged his North Macedonian counterpart Dimitar Kovačevski to show courage and agree to a French-led compromise that would open the door for Skopje to begin formal accession talks with the EU.

But Petkov acknowledged it could fall apart Kovačevski’s government, like Petkov himself, faced – and lost – a vote of confidence on Wednesday.

“At the end of the day, I know it’s politically very difficult,” Petkov said. in an interview with POLITICO in Brussels just as Bulgaria’s parliament was due to vote on Friday to lift a long-standing deadlock on North Macedonia’s membership talks.

“And I know the risk of overthrowing the government is – it’s a big risk,” he continued.

“As a politician, you have to decide, what is my purpose here? Is my goal to be stable? Or is my goal to lead the nation – take a step forward – which is not comfortably going there. And I think that’s the decision, Dimitar Kovacevski has to do now. If I were him, on his side, I wouldn’t even think twice. If he can go down in history by opening North Macedonia’s door to the EU, I think that’s a good… achievement for a prime minister. But it takes guts. »

Petkov lost a no-confidence vote on Wednesday after political rivals took advantage of the contentious dispute with North Macedonia to topple his ruling coalition. Petkov said he would sign his resignation letter on Monday and expects Bulgaria to hold new parliamentary elections.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov | Andrej Cukic/EFE via EPA

Petkov is in Brussels to attend a European Council summit where Bulgaria has come under heavy criticism for obstructing North Macedonia’s accession talks, not just Kovačevski and other Western Balkan leaders, but also some of the EU’s most influential heads of state and governance.

“Is it fair vis-à-vis North Macedonia? I will say it very honestly: no,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at a summit of European leaders on Thursday evening. “That’s also why we’ve collectively put a lot of pressure on Bulgaria in recent months.”

Macron praised Petkov, who the French president said “did everything”, but he said North Macedonia was a victim of Bulgaria’s domestic politics.

“It is also the result of a political crisis in Bulgaria,” Macron said.

Petkov, in the Friday morning interview, said the compromise proposed by France should be seen as a “European agreement” and not as an agreement only between Bulgaria and North Macedonia. Historically, Bulgaria has been a big champion of granting EU membership to Western Balkan nations, and Petkov said that remains the case. But he also said there were serious issues regarding the rights of ethnic Bulgarians in North Macedonia and that those citizens needed stronger protections in North Macedonia’s constitution.

“It’s not Bulgaria versus North Macedonia now,” Petkov said. “If this decision is made, it should be the European agreement on the table in North Macedonia.”

Petkov insisted he had shown the political bravery to fight entrenched interests, crack down on corruption and push for a deal with Skopje.

“If our government had been the most stable in the world, we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all,” he said. “If we had turned a blind eye to old corrupt practices, and weren’t so vocal about, for example, the use of gas as a weapon within the bloc… now you would have had a voiceless nation and very stable in the EU. But what we would have missed was the ability for the parties to say, ‘Okay, well, we want to go faster.’ So I’m more than happy to have paid the price now with this vote of no confidence. Because that’s the only way for change to happen. Otherwise, you’re stuck in the–in the slum.

Maïa de la Baume contributed to the report.

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