Divided Lawmakers Back Step Toward Joining EU

US endorses plan for North Macedonia to first meet demands by Bulgaria
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 16, 2022 3:50 PM CDT
Divided Lawmakers Back Step Toward Joining EU
An improvised guillotine with a banner reading "French Proposal" in Macedonian is set outside the parliament building in Skopje, North Macedonia, on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

After a three-day debate that included protests inside and outside parliament, North Macedonia lawmakers endorsed a plan on Saturday that could put it on a path toward joining the European Union. The compromise brokered by France first would settle a dispute with Bulgaria, which has blocked membership for North Macedonia, Politico Europe reports. The plan drew 68 yes votes in the 120-member legislature. "Finally, the Macedonian language will echo everywhere in Europe," Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski said after the vote. The EU had said that if the deal was approved, membership talks could begin next week.

Opposition lawmakers walked out without voting. They're against the level of concessions to neighboring Bulgaria, which claims North Macedonia's ethnicity and language spring from Bulgaria. French President Emmanuel Macron has noted that the wording doesn't object to the official existence of a Macedonian language. But he conceded the agreement "rests on compromises and on a balance." The measure agrees to Bulgaria's demands to change its constitution to recognize a Bulgarian minority, safeguard minority rights, and prohibit hate speech. Changing the constitution requires a two-thirds vote, however, and parties that control 46 seats have said their members would vote no.

After the vote Saturday, MPs in the socialist-led government rolled out flags of the EU and North Macedonia. Protests have been held outside the building in Skopje every day this month, including Saturday, per the AP. North Macedonia has been trying to join the EU since 2005, and added "North" to its name to satisfy Greece. It joined NATO in 2020. The new agreement isn't necessarily popular in Bulgaria, either, where the government lost a no-confidence vote after opponents called removing the veto a "national betrayal." The US endorsed the move Saturday. "A European Union that includes all of the Western Balkans, including Albania and North Macedonia, will be stronger and more prosperous," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. (More North Macedonia stories.)

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