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Political unrest in Bulgaria could scupper a deal to resolve EU veto row

The long-running saga over Bulgaria’s veto over North Macedonia starting EU membership talks appeared to be heading for a resolution on Wednesday, writes Georgy Karamfilov from Euronews Bulgaria. But just as a deal appeared on the horizon, the Bulgarian government collapsed, again obscuring the issue in uncertainty.

The question of the Bulgarian “veto” on the opening of negotiations for North Macedonia’s accession to the EU has been on the agenda in Brussels for two years.

During this period, Sofia was visited on several occasions by various representatives of the European Commission.

Most notably, Oliver Varhelyi, European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, who tried to unravel the dispute. But no significant progress has been made.

Now, however, a so-called “French proposal” has been put on the table to resolve the dispute between the two countries in a way that would allow North Macedonia to obtain a framework for its accession negotiations and start working on it, but also give a guarantee to Bulgarian concerns about Skopje’s possible accession to the bloc of 27 countries.

You can read more about why Bulgaria vetoed North Macedonia’s EU membership here.

The term “French proposal”, which has become synonymous in Bulgaria in recent days, does not actually mean that the proposal is made specifically by the French government. Rather, it was “conceived” during the French presidency of the European Council, which ends at the end of June. Brussels’ objective was to find a solution by the end of the French presidency.

Basically, the proposal of the French presidency is based on the fact that Bulgaria allows Skopje to start the integration process now or at least in the foreseeable future. In return, the European Commission will compromise on its position of principle not to engage in bilateral disputes.

Thus, the European Commission will become the guarantor of the conditions set for North Macedonia, including them in the very framework of the negotiations that will be provided in Skopje. It includes demands such as the inclusion of Bulgarians in the constitution of North Macedonia, the protection of the rights and interests of minorities in North Macedonia, the insertion of a clear commitment in the fight against hate speech in the country and the resolution of the Macedonian language issue in a way that does not directly concern the Bulgarian position on the issue.

A key point of the French proposal is the monitoring by the European Commission of North Macedonia’s compliance with previous bilateral treaties with EU countries – the Prespa agreement with Greece and the Treaty of Friendship, Neighborhood and cooperation with Bulgaria.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s ambitions to provide a solution to the impasse have, however, already succeeded in causing domestic political unrest in Bulgaria.

They were even given as the reason for the collapse of the country’s ruling coalition after TV star Slavi Trifonov’s “There is such a people” (ITN) party began accusing the government that, under French pressure, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov agreed to lift the veto.

In a video statement, Trifonov said the “French proposal” obliges Bulgaria to lift the veto at the start of negotiations and that Brussels will give a possible guarantee that Bulgaria’s demands will be respected thereafter. However, his words were refuted and called insinuations. It also emerged that outgoing Bulgarian Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska (from Slavi Trifonov’s party) also worked on the French proposal.

Shortly after receiving the proposal, Bulgarian Prime Minister Petkov delegated responsibility for its adoption to parliament.

For the moment, the proposal has been submitted to the Bulgarian National Assembly and should be examined by the parliamentary committee for foreign affairs.

However, there is no committee meeting scheduled yet. This drew criticism from Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, who said the proposal was “the best and fairest” yet.

However, the government abdicated its responsibility to rule on the proposal and delegated this responsibility entirely to parliament.

Considering that Petkov’s government lost its parliamentary majority and then, on Wednesday, a vote of confidence, there is a strong chance of new elections. All this means that there is a real risk that the proposal will not be considered at all.

euronews Gt

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