Meeting in Sofia, North Macedonia’s Prime Minster Dimitar Kovacevski and his Bulgarian counterpart Kiril Petkov dodged the historical disputes that soured relations between the two countries and focused on joint economic opportunities.

Bulgaria, North Macedonia PMs Hail Partnership, Play Down Disputes

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski review the honour guard during an official welcome ceremony in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Monday. Photo: EPA-EFE/VASSIL DONEV

Bulgaria and North Macedonia’s new premiers, Kiril Petkov and Dimitar Kovacevski, sealed their intentions to reboot the two country’s tense relations by signing off on several partnerships on Tuesday while dodging political topics and historical disputes.

During a meeting in Sofia, which followed Petkov’s recent visit to Skopje, three new memorandums were signed – to finish the not-yet-completed railway between Skopje and Sofia, develop a closer partnership in agriculture and support small and middle-sized businesses in both countries. The launching of an air connection between the two capitals was also on Petkov and Kovacevski’s agenda.

“By signing these three memorandums on our very first meeting in Sofia, we give an example of a new approach, we deal with a new energy and bring real results,” Kiril Petkov told local media.

Petkov was visibly enthusiastic: “The end goal of these partnerships is the economic growth of the whole region. A growth that both the citizens of Bulgaria and North Macedonia will feel by having a better standard of living.”

Petkov also said that the working groups engaged with resolving the disputes between the two countries will have at least three further meetings in the next four months. Petkov praised their “optimistic and progressive outlook”.

“It’s normal for ethnic groups, who self-identify in a different way from Macedonian, to be recognised,” Kovacevski said diplomatically about Bulgaria’s ambition to get North Macedonia to recognise a Bulgarian minority in the country – a move widely interpreted as a way for Bulgaria to make North Macedonia acknowledge that Macedonian ethnicity and language are of Bulgarian origin.

Despite a 2017 friendship treaty, the relationship between the countries entered a more troubled phase when Bulgaria’s Boyko Borissov-led government blocked North Macedonia’s EU accension talks in 2020 over historical disputes and the alleged breaching of the treaty.

But in the light of Petkov’s ambition to change the relationship between the two countries, the veto is expected to be reviewed in the first half of 2022.

However, as President Rumen Radev stated on January 11, “our approval of North Macedonia starting EU accession talks should not be tied to deadlines but with reaching realistic goals, including the recognition of the Bulgarian minority in the country.”

Kovacevski’s visit to Sofia continues on Tuesday with a meeting with President Radev.

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