Olaf Solz extinguishes wicks in the Balkans

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The Solts tour in the Western Balkans is also aimed at EU enlargement. But in the example of Northern Macedonia, the blockade by Bulgaria seems insurmountable.

A few days ago, on June 4, 2022, a masked cyclist stopped in front of the Bulgarian cultural association “Vanko Mikhailov” in Bitola, Northern Macedonia. He threw flammable liquid on the door, set it on fire and left. The incident was recorded on a closed circuit television. Although there was little damage to the building other than the door, the ensuing fire rekindled the political conflict that has been raging over relations between Northern Macedonia and Bulgaria in recent years. Despite the immediate arrest of the perpetrator, politicians on both sides of the border considered it appropriate to light their own “flames”. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev claimed that the arson attack “was another provocation, part of the long-running anti-Bulgarian campaign in northern Macedonia”. The government in Skopje condemned the incident, however, and there were calls from at least one opposition party and on many social media sites for demonstrations in favor of the perpetrator.

All problems in this neighborhood

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The opening of a club called Vanko Mikhailov, a Bulgarian Nazi collaborator in World War II, promoted by Bulgarian politicians as a reconciliation movement, sparked a storm of rage in northern Macedonia. President Stevo Pentarovski condemned Sofia’s choice of name as a challenge that “does not contribute to the rapprochement of the two peoples”. It is in this climate that the German chancellor visits the country. Its goal is to find a compromise to start the EU accession process blocked by Sofia. In the light of Russia’s aggressive war in Ukraine, EU enlargement is more important than ever. Former Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov sees Soltz’s visit as “the culmination of German diplomatic efforts to ensure significant progress not only for the Balkans but also for Ukraine,” he told Deutsche Welle. “This problem ‘makes the EU geopolitically incompetent in its own region.” Two of the six Western Balkan countries, Serbia and Montenegro, are already in negotiations for full EU membership, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are hoping to become candidates, while Bulgaria’s veto has blocked developments in Macedonia. and Albania for the last two years.

Solz is not alone in his diplomatic efforts. On June 6, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed to his counterparts in northern Macedonia and Bulgaria that Paris be the place to sign the bilateral agreement, “when the time comes.” Paris is pushing for a solution by the end of June 2022, when the French EU presidency ends. Berlin, for its part, sees EU enlargement as one of the main pillars of its European policy, which is also enshrined in its government agreement. three-party government Solts. Ukraine’s application for EU membership further complicates matters. The possibility of starting negotiations with Kyiv in June is a problem for Brussels. After all, several countries in the Western Balkans have been waiting for years for the time to join. On May 9, when asked about this, Solz referred directly to this situation during a joint press conference with Macron in Berlin. “Many have already made great preparations and made courageous decisions. At some point, such courage must be rewarded. Take Northern Macedonia, for example,” the German chancellor said.

Opportunity window

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The dispute over language and history between Northern Macedonia and Bulgaria is well known. Bilateral talks are now focusing on the issue of securing the Bulgarian minority in the constitution of Northern Macedonia. But the current government in Skopje does not have the votes to pass such a proposal. The country’s nationalist opposition considers any approach to Bulgaria a “national betrayal”. Things got worse. The government in Sofia lost its slim parliamentary majority yesterday, three days before Soltz arrived in Sofia with the departure of the populist ITN party (there are such people). Slavi Trifonov has accused Bulgarian Prime Minister Kirill Petkov of trying to lift a veto against northern Macedonia by launching EU accession talks, ignoring Bulgaria’s national interests. However, Daniel Smilov, a Bulgarian political analyst and associate professor at Sofia University, believes there is a window of opportunity. “A possible agreement,” he told DW, “could be based on a commitment to refer to the Bulgarians in the constitution of Northern Macedonia and to incorporate elements of the existing treaties between the two countries in the accession negotiations. The question is whether “There will be a Bulgarian government to proceed with such a deal.”

Even though it was announced on June 9th that Bulgarian Prime Minister Kirill Petkov will continue to lead a minority government, President Radev remains the main obstacle. “Radev has been positioned as the main hardcore on the issue,” Smilov said. “The reasons for this policy have more to do with domestic politics and are sought in modern populism and the much more effective mobilization behind claims that ‘the people must not succumb to foreign pressure.'” The European Commission and most EU member states, including Germany, are reluctant to allow bilateral disputes into the negotiations, but are willing to compromise if Skopje and Sofia find some sort of agreement. However, former Macedonian Foreign Minister Dimitrov warns that such a diplomatic solution would only postpone the problem to perpetuity, allowing Sofia to further block Northern Macedonia during accession talks. “Everyone has to be careful in this pursuit of success. It could easily become short-lived and superficial.”

Boris Georgievski

Edited by: Irini Anastassopoulou Olaf Solz extinguishes wicks in the Balkans

Source: Deutsche Welle

Source: Capital

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