German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pushed Bulgaria to lift its blockade of North Macedonia’s EU membership bid during a visit to Sofia on Saturday, but failed to achieve a breakthrough in the long-standing dispute.
Scholz, who stopped in Sofia on a swing through key capitals in the region, said after a meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov that he saw “opportunities for progress.” While such opportunities weren’t apparent on Saturday, Scholz did his best to put a diplomatic spin on his visit.
“These things can’t be dictated; they have to be resolved with cooperation,” Scholz said, adding that he expected talks to continue in the coming days and that a new “dynamic” had been achieved. Berlin’s aim is to resolve the issues surrounding North Macedonia ahead of the European Council meeting on June 23-24.
Petkov, whose government coalition is hanging by a thread after one of the four parties ditched the alliance over fears the prime minister was going to lift Bulgaria’s veto, said on Saturday that he was sticking to the conditions his country has stipulated to resolve the impasse.
Bulgaria, which has been embroiled in a years-long dispute with North Macedonia over history, language and identity, has made several demands of its neighbor before it will agree to greenlight EU accession talks, including that Skopje anchor the rights of a Bulgarian minority in the county in its constitution.
The dispute is just the latest in a serious of hurdles North Macedonia has faced on its path to the EU. In 2018, it agreed to change its name to North Macedonia in order to resolve a dispute with Greece.
Germany, which has for years championed the cause of EU accession for western Balkan countries, is eager to accelerate the process amid worries that Russia could try to further sow division in the region amid its broader standoff with the West over Ukraine.
During a stop in Skopje earlier on Saturday, Scholz praised North Macedonia for the strides it has made in recent years.
“Germany is serious about EU integration for the whole region and that’s particularly true for North Macedonia,” he said, noting that the country had fulfilled all of the requirements to begin formal membership talks.