SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Bulgaria on Friday ruled out a possible reversal of its veto of the European Union starting long-delayed membership talks with North Macedonia because of disputes over history and language.
Following a meeting with visiting EU officials, Bulgarian caretaker Foreign Minister Svetlan Stoev said that no change can be expected in his country’s position regarding North Macedonia.
Bulgaria’s stance was adopted by all parties in parliament, and the current interim government has no authority to change it, Stoev told European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi and Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.
The stalemate further reduces the chances for a solution of the dispute ahead of the EU accession talks, which are scheduled for June.
Bulgaria wants North Macedonia to formally recognize that its language has Bulgarian roots and to stamp out allegedly anti-Bulgarian rhetoric. Skopje says its identity and language are not open to discussion.
A commission of historians from both countries has been set up to resolve the standoff, but so far it has failed to reach common ground.
“Our goal is to create the necessary conditions for restoring dialogue between Sofia and Skopje via concrete positive steps, including at the highest level, which can serve as a foundation for a future regular government to work on returning the relations between Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia to the appropriate level,” Stoev said.
Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, has been an active supporter of letting the six Western Balkan countries into the 27-nation bloc, which could help improve living standards and insulate the region from the influence of Russia and China.
The EU officials also visited North Macedonia after their talks in Bulgaria.
North Macedonia’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev said they presented a proposal which he said provided a “good basis” for resolving the dispute and paving the way for the country to start accession negotiations.
“It is especially important for us that this draft solution does not touch or encroach our Macedonian identity issues, which satisfies our crucial position," Zaev said, without revealing any details of the proposal.
North Macedonia applied for EU membership in 2004 and received a positive assessment from the European Commission a year later. EU leaders agreed to formal accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia after Skopje settled a nearly three decade-long dispute with neighboring Greece over the country's name, which saw it renamed North Macedonia.
Western Balkan countries are at different stages of EU membership talks. Serbia and Montenegro have already started negotiating some chapters of their membership agreements. Kosovo and Bosnia have signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement, the first step to membership.