Bulgaria vetoed the start of talks on North Macedonia's bid to one day join the European Union on Tuesday, citing disagreements over the interpretation of Macedonian heritage.
North Macedonia overcame a significant hurdle in its EU-membership bid in 2019 by reaching an agreement with Greece over its official name. The long-delayed talks have now stalled once again over Bulgarian claims regarding Macedonian historic and linguistic origins.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, told journalists that her country "doesn't support this stage of the accession framework with the Republic of North Macedonia and the holding of the first intergovernmental conference."
"The plan does not take into account Bulgarian demands and cannot be adopted," she concluded.
Bulgaria said several issues need to be resolved before talks can start on accepting its smaller Balkan neighbor into the bloc.
Sofia has objected to the name North Macedonia and is demanding that Skopje recognize the Macedonian language as a variant of Bulgarian.
EU dignitaries still hopeful
Michael Roth, Germany's European Affairs Minister, played down the dispute, saying that there were "some open questions from the Bulgarian point of view that have to be clarified."
Germany had been hoping for the issue to be concluded before the end of the year when its term holding the rotating EU presidency ends.
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic was also hopeful, saying "we are in the final stretch," with regards to the bids of Albania and North Macedonia after both countries carried out the necessary reforms in order to be considered for accession candidate status.
Bujar Osmani, North Macedonia's foreign minister, said his country would immediately continue talks with Sofia in order to solve the issue, but that Bulgaria was consciously doing damage "to itself and to North Macedonia, to the enlargement process, but also to the credibility of the Union."
An accession bid, years in the making
Talks over the accession of North Macedonia and Albania were expected to start in December at an intergovernmental conference.
All 27 EU member states must agree on a country's accession bid for it to be successful.
North Macedonia began its application in 2004, but was blocked by Athens until the two countries resolved their name dispute in 2019.
Skopje then had to wait until March 2020 for the go-ahead for membership talks after France expressed doubt over the country's track record on democracy and fighting corruption.
ab/rs (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)