January 18 (BTA) – Prime Minister Kiril Petkov is leading a Bulgarian Government delegation on an official one-day visit to the Republic of North Macedonia on Tuesday. Petkov is the first head of government to confer with the newly elected Prime Minister of the Republic of North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovacevski. There have been recent tensions in the relations between Sofia and Skopje. In November 2020, Bulgaria blocked the start of North Macedonia’s EU accession talks, arguing that its southwestern neighbour did not meet the eligibility criteria. The two countries still face unresolved historical questions, issues surrounding the 2017 bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Goodneighbourliness and Cooperation, guaranteeing the rights of Bulgarians in North Macedonia, among others. The Bulgarian delegation includes Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska, Transport and Communications Minister Nikolai Sabev and National Assembly Deputy Chair Kristian Vigenin. The two countries’ delegations are to hold talks in an expanded format. Petkov is also to confer with President Stevo Pendarovski and Assembly President Talat Xhaferi. On the agenda of the Bulgarian Prime Minister’s visit are meetings with Democratic Union for Integration leader Ali Ahmeti and VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski. Petkov is scheduled to confer with members of the Bulgarian community in the Republic of North Macedonia. Backrgounder Lyuben Berov was the first Bulgarian prime minister to pay an official visit to the Republic of Macedonia (today’s Republic of North Macedonia) after Bulgaria recognized its independence on January 15, 1992. The visit was made on June 6-7, 1993, at the invitation of Macedonia’s then Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski. Its purpose was the signing of an economic cooperation agreement aimed at stepping up trade in the border regions and two-way trade, shows a check with BTA’s Reference Library. On June 7, 1993, the government leaders of Bulgaria and Macedonia, Lyuben Berov and Branko Crvenkovski, signed a Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement, through which the two countries’ relations are oriented to a free exchange of goods and capital. The two discussed the infrastructure between the two countries and transport and communication problems, including the construction of a railway. On February 27-28, 1997, Bulgarian Prime Minister Stefan Sofiyanski paid a working visit to Skopje at the invitation of his Macedonian counterpart Branko Crvenkovski. The two government leaders discussed specific ways of invigorating bilateral economic cooperation and the preparation and signing of а free trade agreement between Bulgaria and Macedonia. They agreed that experts from the two countries should hold a working meeting. On March 8 and 9, 2001, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov paid an official visit to North Macedonia at the invitation of Macedonian counterpart Ljubco Georgievski. Two months later, on May 25, Kostov again paid a short visit to Skopje where he conferred with Georgievski. Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha also paid an official visit to North Macedonia on April 18 through 20, 2003. The sides signed an Agreement on the Establishment of Cultural and Information Centres in Sofia and Skopje. On June 3, 2006, Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev paid a working visit to North Macedonia. He was met by his counterpart, Vlado Buckovski, at Deve Bair in Macedonia where they turned the first sod of the 400 kW power transmission line project connecting Chervena Mogila in Bulgaria and Stip in Macedonia. Later, as part of the official visit, the interior ministers of Bulgaria and North Macedonia, Roumen Petkov and Ljubomir Mihajlovski, signed an Agreement on Border Police Cooperation between the two countries. Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev was also on an official visit to Skopje on December 14 and 15, 2008. On December 15, the two prime ministers inaugurated the 400 kV power transmission line connecting the grids of the two countries between Chervena Mogila (Bulgaria) and Dubrovo (Macedonia). The facility is part of the multimodal pan-European Corridor No 8, a priority for Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania and Italy. On July 28 2013, Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski held a working meeting with Macedonia’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in the Bulgarian city of Kyustendil at the initiative of the Macedonian side. After the meeting Oresharski said that Bulgaria backs Macedonia’s NATO and EU membership and insists on signing a goodneighbourliness and cooperation treaty, voicing hope that work on the treaty would continue at an accelerated pace. During an official visit of Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev on June 20 2017 at the invitation of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, the two sides agreed that Bulgaria and Macedonia would set up a cooperation mechanism at the level of experts on issues related to Macedonia’s preparations to accede the European Union and the ensuing activities on planning, management and control on EU fund investments. A meeting between Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister for judicial reforms and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva and Macedonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Dimitrov discussed concrete steps ahead of finalizing the goodneighbourliness treaty between the two neighbouring countries. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov paid an official visit to Macedonia on August 1 and 2, 2017. Borissov and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev signed the Treaty of Friendship, Goodneighbourliness and Cooperation between the two countries. The ministers of the delegations also signed a Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation in the Field of Natural Gas and a Memorandum of Understanding on the Development of the Railway Connections between Sofia and Skopje. The latter document aimed to serve as a basis for future joint work on building the railway connection between the capitals of the two countries. The Bulgarian side undertook to build the railway line Sofia – Pernik – Radomir – North Macedonian border by 2027. North Macedonia, for its part, committed to building the Kriva Palanka – Deve Bair – Bulgarian border railway section by the end of 2025. On August 2, 2017, a Bulgarian government delegation attended the celebrations of North Macedonia’s national holiday in Skopje. Later, Boyko Borissov and Zoran Zaev honoured together the grave of Gotse Delchev in the Church of the Holy Savior in Skopje. On November 23, 2017 in Strumica, then-prime minister Boyko Borissov participated in his first joint meeting of the governments of Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia after the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Goodneighbourliness and Cooperation on August 1, 2017. In the presence of Boyko Borissov and Zoran Zaev, the ministers of the two delegations signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Reducing International Tariffs for Roaming and Telecommunications Services, a Platform for Intensifying Cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of North Macedonia, a Cooperation Protocol between the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Bulgaria and the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Macedonia, a Cooperation Protocol between the two ministries for the training of North Macedonian tank driver mechanics in North Macedonia. An Agreement was signed between Electricity System Operator EAD, Bulgaria and MEPSO, North Macedonia, according to which from the beginning of 2018 joint tenders would be launched for the distribution of transmission capacities between the electricity operators of the two countries. The Bulgarian gas transmission operator Bulgartransgaz EAD and the Joint Stock Company for Energy Activities North Macedonian Energy Resources MER AD Skopje signed an Agreement to conduct a feasibility study for the construction of a new gas interconnection. A Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between the InvestBulgaria Agency and Invest North Macedonia. A Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between the Bulgarian Agency for Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre and the Agency for Real Estate Cadastre of the Republic of North Macedonia, which provided for the exchange of cartographic and geodetic data and cadastral materials. The memorandum had a ten-year term. An Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Disaster Protection was also signed. The agreements came in implementation of the Treaty of Friendship, Goodneighbourliness and Cooperation, signed on August 1, 2017. On March 12, 2018, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov paid a visit to Skopje to attend a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Jews from the territory of present-day Republic of Macedonia during World War II. Borissov became the first Bulgarian prime minister to participate in an official observance of the anniversary. The official Bulgarian delegation included members of the Jewish community. On August 2, 2018, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev travelled to Blagoevgrad on the 115th anniversary of the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising (1903). Accompanied by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, he attended a ceremony at the monument to Gotse Delchev in Blagoevgrad’s Macedonia Square. This was the second joint observance of the anniversary after 2017. On August 1, 2019, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov was again in Skopje to celebrate, together with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, two years since the signing of the 2017 Friendship Treaty and to commemorate events and personalities of the two countries’ common history, such as the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising and Gotse Delchev. Borissov met with Zaev and with President Stevo Pendarovski. In Dojran, Borissov and Zaev unveiled the restored monument to Col. Konstantin Kavarnaliev.