North Macedonia’s prime minister on Saturday said his country’s long-standing dream of joining the EU was being held “hostage” by neighbouring Bulgaria.
Speaking alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is on a lightning tour of the Balkans, Dimitar Kovacevski told reporters that “one EU member state… is holding two candidate countries, North Macedonia and Albania, as hostages on the path of EU integration”.
His comments were a clear reference to Bulgaria, which in 2020 blocked North Macedonia’s ambition to start European Union membership talks.
The two countries have long sparred over history and language, including Bulgaria’s claim that the Macedonian language is a dialect of Bulgarian.
They both also lay claim to certain historical events and figures, mainly from the Ottoman era.
Scholz said his country was “serious about EU integration for the states in the region and of course that applies particularly to North Macedonia”.
Later on Saturday Scholz travelled to Sofia where he met his Bulgarian counterpart Kiril Petkov.
Petkov said that Bulgaria would seek to see how the EU accession process could be used to improve tha status of the Bulgarian minority in North Macedonia.
Speaking after meeting Petkov, Scholz said “we can be confident of progress”, adding that the “many objections that have built up between the two sides over the years must be cleared away”.