SKOPJE – North Macedonia has agreed to a French proposal, paving the way for negotiations to join the European Union and overcoming Bulgarian objections.
There were 68 votes for the proposal in the 120-seat chamber, with the left-wing coalition, which has 61 seats, garnered support from small ethnic Albanian parties. Opposition MPs left the hall in protest and abstained.
The protesters have gathered again in front of Parliament, as they have done every day for more than 10 days. Protests have occasionally turned violent.
Under the proposal announced by French President Emmanuel Macron last month, North Macedonia would commit to amending its constitution to recognize a Bulgarian minority, protect minority rights and ban hate speech, like Bulgaria, which has been a member of the EU since 2007 , demands.
The deal would also unlock the start of negotiations with neighboring Albania, another EU hope.
Macron had stressed that the proposal does not call into question the official existence of a Macedonian language, but he had noted that, like all agreements, it is “based on compromises and a balance”.
However, revising the constitution could prove too high a hurdle, as it requires a two-thirds majority, or 80 votes. The main opposition party, the centre-right VMRO-DPMNE, and its allies, as well as a small left-wing party with 46 seats below them, have said they will never agree to an amendment to the constitution.
Lawmakers also voted to ensure that negotiations with the EU are conducted on an equal and principled basis, respecting the norms of international law and fully respecting the Macedonian language and national identity.
The country’s ruling coalition has supported the proposal as a reasonable compromise that does not endanger national interests or identity, while the opposition has denounced it as a national treason that gives in to Bulgaria’s questioning of North Macedonia’s history, language, identity, culture and heritage.
“This is a crime against the whole nation. Such a serious mistake has never happened since independence,” said VMRO-DPMNE MP Aleksandar Nikoski.
The French proposal has also rocked Bulgaria, where Prime Minister Kiril Petkov has accepted it. His centrist government was overthrown in a vote of no confidence on June 22, when allies called Petkov’s willingness to lift North Macedonia’s veto of the EU a “national treason”.
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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/07/16/north-macedonia-parliament-oks-deal-to-set-eu-bid-in-motion/ North Macedonia’s parliament approves deal to kick-start EU bid