North Macedonia’s EU Future Hangs in Balance Amid Lack of Consensus on Accession

by Cristian Florescu

The future of North Macedonia’s EU accession path is still uncertain with many actors now weighing in on what should happen next. On Monday (3 January), France’s Ambassador to Albania, and Bulgarian coalition politician both had their say, write

French Ambassador to Albania Elisabeth Barsacq said that Albania and North Macedonia’s accession path to the EU should not be decoupled.

In an interview for Euronews Albania on Monday, January 3, Barsacq acknowledged that the desire to decouple the two countries comes from frustration over Bulgaria’s veto on North Macedonia.

“In regards to this issue, I believe that we need to overcome the idea that these two nations can be separated. I know that many say that these two countries have been treated as one and since things aren’t going so well between North Macedonia and Bulgaria then they should be decoupled. This should be overcome and we need to do our best so that the two intergovernmental conferences can be held at the same time,” Barsacq told Euronews.

During his last 2021 address to the nation on December 31, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said he would seek to decouple Albania’s path from North Macedonia’s if Bulgaria persists with its veto. European diplomats and politicians, however, have continuously expressed themselves against this proposition.

Although both Albania and North Macedonia have formally fulfilled all requirements, in June 2021 the General Affairs Council of the EU failed to reach an agreement on starting EU accession talks. Bulgaria’s veto on North Macedonia over cultural and linguistic differences made a unanimous decision of the 27 ministers of foreign affairs impossible, which also penalized Albania.

Meanwhile, Slavi Trifonov, leader of Bulgaria’s nationalist There Is Such a People Party and member of the country’s governing coalition, said Bulgaria might consider removing the veto if it is granted visa-free travel to the U.S.

“If the Americans want Northern Macedonia to be in the European Union so much, the citizens of Bulgaria, as well as the citizens of most European Union countries, should not need visas to go to America,” said Trifonov, who is also a well-known television presenter.

He also said that lifting the veto should be conditioned on Bulgaria being granted membership to the Schengen Area.

“We must also be Europeans. We are now less European than real Europeans. So, I demand that we immediately be part of the Schengen area and not have visas for America,” Trifonov wrote on social media.

Although Bulgaria is an EU member, it is not part of the Schengen, and it is not allowed free travel to the U.S.

Trifonov said that fulfilment of these conditions, along with the conditions of the Good Neighbour Agreement from North Macedonia, would be enough for Bulgaria to allow its progression towards EU membership.

He also announced that a meeting in North Macedonia would be held with President Rumen Radev on January 10.

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