Lawmakers in North Macedonia have passed a French-brokered deal aimed at settling a dispute with Bulgaria, clearing the way to long-due European Union membership talks.
A total of 68 lawmakers from the 120-seat parliament voted in favour of the agreement on Saturday. Opposition politicians did not participate in the vote and left the room.
The deal proposes that North Macedonia’s constitution be amended to recognise a Bulgarian minority, while the remaining issues be discussed between Skopje and Sofia. The proposal does not require Bulgaria to recognise the Macedonian language.
In exchange, Bulgaria will allow its West Balkan neighbour to start membership talks with the EU. After the agreement was adopted, governing party deputies rolled out EU and North Macedonian flags.
Later on Saturday, after a cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski announced that North Macedonia will start accession talks with EU on July 19.
“With this, we conclude another objectively historical step for our country. We have a negotiating framework in which the Macedonian language and identity are protected,” he said.
Both European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel took to Twitter to congratulate North Macedonia.
“It was a historic opportunity and you seized it,” wrote von der Leyen, calling it a “big step on your path towards a European future”.“Our future is together and we welcome you with open arms,” Michel tweeted.The main opposition nationalist VMRE-DPMNE party bloc has spearheaded daily protests since the beginning of July over a deal they have said endangers the Macedonian language and identity.