Bulgaria and Greece Block Macedonia’s EU Talks

Greece found an ally in Bulgaria in preventing Macedonia from obtaining a start date for EU accession talks at a Tuesday’s EU meeting in Brussels.At the EU meeting, where Macedonia had been hoping to obtain a start date for membership talks, Greece justified its blockade once more on the grounds of the bilateral dispute over Macedonia’s name.

Bulgaria, meanwhile, said it could not support a country that had failed to nurture good neighbourly relations.

The EU Council concluded that any decision on opening accession talks would be based on the report of the European Commission, which is to be published in spring 2013.

“If those assessments are positive, then the Commission will be preparing the negotiating framework for accession negotiations” Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said on Tuesday, following the meeting.

That Commission report will particularly focus on whether Macedonia has made genuine steps forward towards reaching a deal with Greece on its name and on improving relations with both Greece and Bulgaria, as well as on reforms progress inside the country.

Fuele insisted that a small a step forward had been taken. “For the first time [we have] non-static language [in the meeting’s conclusions] which creates the conditions for a non-static solution of this issue,” he said.

“We have now a… forward-looking text that clearly spells out the incentives and the further steps to be taken,” Erato Kozakou-Markoullis, Foreign Minister of Cyprus, said.

Macedonia has obtained annual recommendations for a start to EU membership talks from European Commission reports since 2009.

However, Macedonia has never been offered a date for the talks owing to the Greek blockade, related to the dispute over Macedonia’s name.

Greece insists that Macedonia’s name implies territorial claims to its own northern province, also called Macedonia.

Earlier this year the Enlargement Commissioner Fule floated the idea that Macedonia might obtain a start date for talks without a prior deal on the name issue, accompanied with an obligation and a time frame for solving the name dispute in the early stage of the talks.

While the Greek blockade in Brussels had been expected, Bulgaria only emerged this year as an obstacle to Macedonia’s hopes.

Bulgaria’s support was “not unconditional” Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov warned earlier this week, accusing Macedonia of waging an anti-Bulgarian campaign and of replacing historical facts.

Before the meeting in Brussels, Bulgaria set out three terms for its neighbour in exchange for its support in the EU, which Macedonia then accepted.

Bulgaria demanded the signing of a friendship and cooperation deal, joint government sessions as well as an agreement for joint celebrations of notable personalities and events “in our common history”.

Unlike Greek-Macedonian relations, relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia have generally been relatively friendly.

Bulgaria was the first country to recognise Macedonia when it proclaimed its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Moreover, Bulgaria, unlike Greece, recognises its neighbour under its constitutional name, the “Republic of Macedonia”.

But Sofia does not recognise the existence of a Macedonian language, separate from Bulgarian, and many Bulgarian historians still maintain that Macedonians are ethnic Bulgarians.

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