Bulgarian Premier Aims to Break EU Deadlock With Balkan Neighbor
(Bloomberg) -- Bulgaria’s new prime minister pledged to break a diplomatic deadlock over neighboring North Macedonia’s talks to join the European Union, a standoff that’s ground the nation’s EU ambitions to a halt.
Bulgaria has blocked North Macedonia’s talks to join the 27-member bloc over historic and linguistic claims, while asserting that the rights of Bulgarian nationals in the country are being violated.
Kiril Petkov, the 41-year-old Harvard Business School alumni elected last year to fight graft, said he wants to shift the debate away from historical disputes to focus on infrastructure and economic development.
“We should put all the discussions on all the win-wins between the two countries,” Petkov said in an interview with Bloomberg News on Tuesday in Sofia. “If both sides start talking about the upsides, the willingness to come to an agreement on important issues would be easier.”
A landlocked republic of 2 million, North Macedonia has confronted a host of regional resistance in its path toward western integration. In order to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2020, it had to change its name to resolve a dispute with Greece, which accused it of territorial claims on its own region of Macedonia.
Now it faces pushback from Bulgaria, where the issue has won public backing. More than 70% of Bulgarians say North Macedonia must resolve its disputes before advancing to the EU.
With Petkov’s coalition partners also expressing reluctance to offer concessions, his task will be difficult. A bilateral commission of historians has quarreled for years, with no progress in sight.
Petkov said working groups will meet “on a tight schedule” to achieve progress on the issue over the next six months, providing a basis for Bulgaria to revisit its position. To ease a shift, he said he’ll push for a Europe-wide mechanism protecting against discriminatory treatment on groups by nationality.
“I have a strong will and do believe that” both countries’ interest is to continue with North Macedonia’s path into the EU, Petkov said. “So the faster we progress on these steps the faster we can come with more specific deadlines.”
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