North Macedonia lawmakers have approved a French-mediated agreement to settle a conflict with Bulgaria and open the doors for long-awaited European Union member negotiations.
With 68 votes, the 120-member parliament approved of the agreement. Opposition lawmakers did not vote and fled the room.
After his cabinet approved the conclusions of parliament, Prime Minister Dimitar Kolaveski stated that “Today we’re opening new perspectives for our country…from now we are taking accelerated steps towards joining the EU family.” Kovacevski stated that the first meeting between his government, the EU and him would take place today (19 July).
The deal stipulates that North Macedonia’s constitution must be amended to allow for recognition of a Bulgarian minority. The proposal does not require Bulgaria to recognize Macedonian languages.
Bulgaria will also allow its West Balkan neighbour to join EU membership negotiations.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, visited Skopje Thursday to encourage lawmakers to vote in favor of the deal. She stated that the vote “paves the way for rapid opening the accession negotiations.”
Monday’s announcement by Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama that an Albanian delegation will be travelling to Brussels to start membership negotiations was made by Edi Rama.
Antony Blinken (US Secretary of State) praised the vote, saying Washington acknowledged “the difficult tradeoffs made by this compromise, which acknowledges and respects North Macedonia’s cultural identity and the Macedonian language.”
Hristijan Mickoski, leader of the largest opposition party VMRO/DPMNE, has been protesting against the deal since July’s beginning. He stated that “nothing had been done”. Hristijan Mickoski (leader of the largest opposition party VMRO/DPMNE) stated that his party will not support any constitutional changes that require a two-thirds vote. Last month, the parliament of Bulgaria lifted its veto on Macedonian EU negotiations. Protests in Bulgaria led to a no confidence vote that led to the fall of the government.
North Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic, has been a candidate for the EU since 1997. At first, Greece and then Bulgaria blocked approval.
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