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PoliticsNorth Macedonia

North Macedonia approves deal to start EU talks

July 16, 2022

North Macedonia's Assembly voted in favor of France's proposal to open the door to talks to join the European Union. The proposal will help overcome Bulgaria's objections to the prospect of North Macedonian membership.

A protester outside parliament  waves the Macedonian flag
For more than a week, demonstrators have gathered outside the parliament to express disdain for the French proposal for North Macedonia to begin talks to join the EU, seeing it as too favorable to Bulgarian wishesImage: Petr Stojanovski/DW

A majority of the members of North Macedonia's parliament voted in support of France's proposal to clear the way for talks for the country to join the European Union.

Sixty-eight lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament voted in favor of the proposal, which helps overcome Bulgaria's objections.

What is France's proposal?

France's proposal is in accordance with Sofia's demands that North Macedonia change its constitution to acknowledge a Bulgarian minority, protect minority rights and introduce hate speech into the criminal code. Bulgaria has been a member of the EU since 2007.

In addition, the deal would see the removal of an EU block on negotiations with Albania.

Macron emphasized that the deal does not cast doubt on the official existence of a Macedonian language, but instead it "rests on compromises and on a balance."

What happened during the vote?

The leftist coalition, which holds 61 seats, had support from small ethnic Albanian parties in getting the proposal passed. Opposition lawmakers walked out and abstained.

Outside the parliament, in Skopje, protesters gathered for over 10 days in opposition. Occasionally, the demonstrations have become violent.

Members of parliament also voted in support of ensuring that talks with the European Union are carried out on an equal and principled basis, with respect for international law, as well as respect for Macedonia's language and national identity.

Supporters of the proposal have said it does not contradict the national interest or North Macedonia's identity. Those opposed have taken umbrage at the suggestions that it is not a threat to the country's sovereignty or identity.

What are the opposition's objections?

Altering the constitution may be a bridge too far as it requires a two-thirds majority, or at least 80 votes, to pass.

The main opposition party, the VMRO-DPMNE, has said it will never agree to changes to the constitution.

Aleksandar Nikoloski of VMRO-DPMNE said: "This is a crime against the whole nation. Such a grave mistake has never had happened since the independence."

How have EU leaders reacted?

In Bulgaria, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov accepted the proposal before he was ousted in a no-confidence vote on June 22. His allies accused him of "national betrayal" for lifting the veto on North Macedonia's membership in the EU.

By contrast, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel tweeted their congratulations following the vote.

Von der Leyen wrote that the vote "paves the way for opening the accession negotiations rapidly."

Michel added: "We welcome you with open arms."

Swedish PM Andersson on Albania, North Macedonia EU accession talks

ar/kb (AP, dpa)