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(DF) Consultative Council National Security: Greenlighting North Macedonia’s EU Membership Talks Should Not Be Tied to Deadlines, but to Results

January 10 (BTA) – Following a meeting of the Consultative Council on National Security (CCNS) that lasted over five hours on Monday, President Rumen Radev said in a statement that there is consensus among the parties in Parliament on the Bulgarian position regarding the EU prospects of the Republic of North Macedonia. He also said that giving a green light for the start of Skopje’s accession talks should not be dependent on deadlines but on achieving real results, including with regard to the rights of Macedonian Bulgarians. He presented the Council’s position and seven proposals to the executive and the legislature. The meeting with a single item on the agenda – the Bulgarian position on the enlargement of the EU into the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania – was held with the participation of Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, representatives of the parliamentary groups, the Ministers of Finance, Assen Vassilev, of the Interior, Boyko Rashkov, of Defence, Stefan Yanev, and Deputy Foreign Minister Irena Dimitrova (sitting in for Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska who is quarantined with COVID), as well as the leaders of the State Agency for National Security and the National Intelligence Agency. Sofia has consistently blocked the start of Republic of North Macedonia’s EU accession talks, insisting that Skopje should first meet the conditions in its Goodneighbourliness Treaty with Bulgaria, which include abandoning hate speech against Bulgaria, the distortion of historical facts in textbooks and elsewhere and the discrimination against its citizens who identify themselves as Bulgarians. The President said after the meeting that the integration of the Western Balkans into the European Union is a strategic interest of Bulgaria, coinciding with the interests of its partners and allies from the European Union and NATO. In his words, it was established during the CCNS meeting that for four years after the signing of the Goodneighbourliness Treaty in 2017, the Republic of North Macedonia has not done what is necessary for its implementation and has failed to provide guarantees that it would honour its commitments. The statement recalls that following the consultative meeting with the President in September 2019, attended by representatives of the executive and the legislature, the Framework Position on the enlargement of the European Union and the stabilization and association process regarding North Macedonia and Albania was adopted by the Council of Ministers, and supported by a Declaration of the 44th National Assembly. “These documents are the basis for the [Bulgarian]policy regarding the enlargement of the European Union into North Macedonia and Albania and have conditioned Bulgaria’s consistent refusal to approve the start of membership talks with North Macedonia,” says the statement. It goes on to recall that thirty years ago, on January 15, 1992, Bulgaria was the first country in the world to recognize today’s Republic of North Macedonia as a newly independent state. “Bulgaria has never denied and does not deny the right of the citizens of North Macedonia to self-determine based on their own self-consciousness, as well as to use their languages, according to the constitution of their country. At the same time, Bulgaria insists on the full equality of Macedonian Bulgarians with the other parts of peoples in Northern Macedonia, as explicitly defined in their constitution. The decade-long policy of discriminating against Macedonian Bulgarians, 120,000 of whom are Bulgarian citizens, and thus EU citizens, has recently escalated into open public attacks on citizens declaring their Bulgarian origin,” says the statement. “The rights of Macedonian Bulgarians are a key element of the Copenhagen criteria for membership in the European Union, they cannot be negotiated, and their protection is explicitly stated in the Declaration of the National Assembly of 2019,” the statement goes. The participants in the meeting concurred that comprehensive, targeted, and well-resourced actions are needed to restore trust and intensify bilateral cooperation in all areas of mutual interest. Of particular importance are projects providing transport, infrastructure, digital and energy connectivity, with an emphasis on Corridor VIII. “This in turn will contribute to overcoming the stalemate in relations between the two countries, speed up the negotiation process and promote the sustainable development and prosperity of the region.” The participants in the meeting reaffirmed Bulgaria’s position on Albania’s readiness to start the negotiation process for membership in the European Union. Based on the discussions, the CCNS adopted the following proposals to the executive and the legislature: 1. Conducting the country’s foreign policy, the Council of Ministers should adhere to Bulgaria’s national position, complying with the requirements arising from the Goodneighbourliness Treaty of 2017, the Framework Position of 2019 and the Declaration of the 44th National Assembly. 2. Giving consent for the start of negotiations for the membership of North Macedonia in the EU should not be bound by deadlines, but by achieving real results, especially regarding the rights of Macedonian Bulgarians. 3. The executive power should continue to work on reporting on the implementation of the 2017 Treaty in the negotiation process for the membership of North Macedonia in the EU. 4. The executive should prepare and provide in terms of personnel and finances an action plan with measures to achieve tangible progress in all areas of bilateral relations with North Macedonia. 5. The executive should propose to the partners in North Macedonia the establishment of joint working groups in the areas, in accordance with the 2017 Treaty to intensify bilateral relations. 6. The executive should take measures to accelerate the construction of Corridor VIII together with North Macedonia and Albania as a single project in its entirety: motorway, railway, energy, and digital connectivity. 7. The National Assembly should propose to the legislature of North Macedonia the establishment of a structured dialogue between parliamentary committees and friendship groups to build trust and support the overall process. Following the CCNS meeting, Hristo Ivanov of the power-sharing Democratic Party coalition said that the Bulgarian position “remains consolidated, clear, consistent and united” and that to him that was the biggest news after the CCNS meeting. “There is no other news. There is a full consensus [among the political parties] based on the Declaration of the 44th National Assembly,” he said. GERB-UDF floor leader Desislava Atanasova commented that the framework position, the decision of the 44th National Assembly and the Council of Ministers were reaffirmed, and said she was happy that it recognized the role of her party. While the CCNS was in session, tens of supporters of the nationalist VMRO party gathered outside the President’s Office calling for the participants in the CCNS meeting not to step down from the Bulgarian position regarding the start of EU accession talks with Skopje. VMRO leader Krassimir Karakachanov told the rally that the Bulgarian history and national interests should not be ignored in the name of the economic interests of the Republic of North Macedonia. “VMRO is not against the EU membership of the Republic of North Macedonia and what we want is to make sure it observes good relations with Bulgaria and respects the rights of Bulgarians,” he said. RY/ZH/MT/LN/