Thaw in relations with Bulgaria could again be reduced to an airplane selfie

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The much vaunted new approach in relations between Macedonia and Bulgaria risks being reduced to several airplane selfies – just like the previous period of EU optimism was marked by Zoran Zaev’s airplane selfie.

That picture had Zaev with some of his top officials announcing to the public that Macedonia has secured its date to open EU accession talks. It was followed by the short-lived French veto, and then the more permanent Bulgarian veto, which Macedonia is still under. This also largely caused the collapse of the Zaev Government.

His successor Kovacevski began engaging Bulgaria in several areas of potential cooperation, and again the selfies followed – this time from the first direct passenger flight between Sofia and Skopje. But with the June date for the EU Council approaching, it’s again uncertain whether Bulgaria will lift the veto.

Bulgaria demands that Macedonia amends its Constitution and adds the Bulgarian community in the preamble – even though it refuses to do the same for the Macedonian community in Bulgaria. This requires the support of the main opposition party in Macedonia – VMRO-DPMNE – which demands reciprocity.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who first announced June as a possible date to reach an agreement, is now warning that talks are stalled and that Bulgaria won’t lift the veto until the Constitution is amended. Kovacevski yesterday tried to put on a brave face, declaring that “cooperation has improved in numerous areas and the official level of communication is much better”. But, Kovacevski also warned that there are “individuals who try to damage our relations”. Kovacevski is also trying to use the war in Ukraine to call on the EU countries to put more pressure on Bulgaria, citing the need to secure the Balkans. But, the outcome remains very uncertain.