SOFIA -- Bulgaria has blocked the start of accession talks between North Macedonia and the European Union over a history and language dispute with its neighbor.
Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said on November 17 that Bulgaria would not approve the negotiation framework for North Macedonia after the two Balkan countries failed to overcome their differences.
"Bulgaria at this stage cannot support the draft negotiating framework with the Republic of Northern Macedonia and the holding of the first intergovernmental conference," Zaharieva said after a video conference of EU foreign ministers. "The proposed project does not reflect Bulgarian demands and cannot be supported in its current form."
Unanimity is required from all EU members for the adoption of the negotiating framework, giving Bulgaria a veto.
Bulgaria wants Skopje to acknowledge that both its identity and language have Bulgarian roots. Specifically, Sofia wants the language spoken by Macedonians to be called "the official language of the Republic of Northern Macedonia."
Skopje has long insisted Macedonian is a distinct South Slavic language that forms part of the country's culture and national identity, while Sofia says Macedonian is merely a regional dialect of Bulgarian.
Bulgaria also demands its neighbor drop any claims that there is a distinct Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. It also calls for the adoption of a road map for the implementation of a 2017 neighborhood agreement with Bulgaria as a condition for Northern Macedonia's EU membership.
In recent weeks, Bulgaria has repeatedly stated that it would hold up North Macedonia’s accession talks as the two sides failed to find common ground.
After much delay, the EU agreed in March that North Macedonia and Albania can start talks for membership. Bulgaria backed a negotiating framework for Albania.
Germany, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of the year, was hoping to launch official accession talks with the two Balkan countries at an intergovernmental conference in December.