site.btaUPDATED Bulgaria, Republic of North Macedonia Sign Protocol under Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation
The Foreign Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia, Teodora Genchovska and Bujar Osmani, signed the protocol for the second meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission under Art. 12 of the 2017 Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation.
The second meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission took place on Sunday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sofia. During the meeting, the implementation of the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation was reviewed and measures for its effective implementation in the next period were agreed upon.
This is the second protocol signed between the two countries. The first protocol of the first meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission between Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia was signed on June 10, 2019 in Sofia. Since then, the committee has not held any meetings.
According to Art. 12 of the Treaty the joint intergovernmental commission holds regular meetings once a year in order to review its effective implementation, adopt measures to improve bilateral cooperation, and resolve issues arising during the implementation of the Treaty.
Sunday's meeting was extremely productive, progress was reported in all sector groups, which are five in total, said Teodora Genchovska. She explained that what needs to be done from now on is to put the agreements and arrangements reached into practice, which is an extremely significant commitment for both countries.
"Bulgaria is the country that most strongly supports the European integration of the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania, hence we wish them success on the path they have long wanted to take. With joint efforts and with our support, they will reach what the citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia most want to reach - membership in the EU," Genchovska said.
The bilateral protocol contains extremely ambitious short-term and long-term measures, which in practice aim to solve many of the open issues, explained the Bulgarian Foreign Minister. She pointed out that this protocol is an integral part of the package of the so-called French proposal together with the negotiating framework and EU Council conclusions. Genchovska explained that on Monday there will be a meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives and the announcement of a written procedure for approval by the member countries. Then by Tuesday there will be information on the confirmation of this package of negotiating framework, conclusions and protocol and then all the documents will be made public, she added.
After a date is set for the first intergovernmental conference by the Czech Presidency, the Republic of North Macedonia will have a so-called political intergovernmental conference, after which it must start the procedure for changing the country's constitution with the aim of including the Bulgarians in it, and after this process is over, there will be a second intergovernmental conference, after which the real negotiations will begin, explained Genchovska.
"There is no change in the so-called French proposal, the negotiation framework is as it was presented to us," Minister Genchovska also stated.
Experts from the Foreign Ministry remain ready to continue interaction at the level of working groups with colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of North Macedonia, Genchovska pointed out.
"Bulgaria is not backing down on its position on the official language of the Republic of North Macedonia. We fully comply with the decision of the National Assembly," Genchovska stressed. She emphasized that Bulgaria does not recognize the Republic of North Macedonia's official language. "The other 26 EU members have their own positions, and we cannot oblige them to accept ours," Genchovska said, adding that the Bulgarian position is 'guaranteed' by the documentation package of the so-called French proposal.
The Bulgarian Foreign Minister also said that the protocol signed today is an integral part of the French proposal together with the negotiation framework and the conclusions of the EU Council.
Genchovska stated that inclusion of Bulgarians in the Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia is the condition for the Republic of North Macedonia to start the real negotiations for EU membership. In her words, it depends on the Republic of North Macedonia and the will of its politicians to quicken and complete the process.
Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Velislava Petrova stressed it is important that not a single document regarding the Republic of North Macedonia's EU accession can be considered a recognition of the existence of so-called 'Macedonian language' on the behalf of Bulgaria. The Bulgarian position remains unchanged, Petrova emphasized.
The Foreign Minister of the Republic of North Macedonia, Bujar Osmani, said that his country relies on Bulgaria for support and expressed hope that a new chapter is opening in the relations between the two countries.
"It is a historic opportunity for us that after 17 years with the status of a candidate country for membership, the Republic of North Macedonia gets the opportunity to start negotiations with the EU tomorrow, as the last phase of our accession to the EU begins," said Osmani. He pointed out that Sunday's talks were constructive and the protocol shows that a lot of work was done.
According to the decision of the Bulgarian National Assembly from June 24 of this year the signing of the protocol is a condition for Bulgaria to approve the EU Negotiating Framework for the Republic of North Macedonia. The first political intergovernmental conference between the Republic of North Macedonia and the European Union is expected to take place in Brussels next week. However, the real negotiations are expected to begin after the Republic of North Macedonia changes its constitution and includes the Bulgarians in it on an equal basis with other nations.