Bulgarian lawmakers vote to unblock North Macedonia's bid to join the EU
Bulgaria's parliament voted on Friday to lift its veto on the opening of negotiations for the accession of North Macedonia to the European Union, paving the way for the bloc to move ahead with expansion plans in the Western Balkans.
North Macedonia has held EU candidate status for 17 years, and received a green light to begin accession talks in 2020.
Bulgaria has previously insisted that North Macedonia must formally recognize that its language has Bulgarian roots, mention a Bulgarian minority in its constitution, and stamp out allegedly anti-Bulgarian rhetoric. North Macedonia said that its identity and language weren't open for discussion and that the solution must be based on European values.
France, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, had made last-ditch efforts this week to resolve an ethnic and cultural dispute, seemingly with some success.
The decision by the Bulgarian parliament was adopted with 170 votes in favor, 37 against and 21 abstentions, according to deputy speaker Atanas Atanasov.
On Twitter, Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov praised parliament for taking “a historic decision,” adding that the integration of the Western Balkans was of “strategic interest of the EU.”
The vote came just one day after Ukraine and Moldova were both granted EU candidate status, partly in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.