SOFIA -- Bulgaria is threatening to delay North Macedonia's path toward European Union membership over a history and language dispute with its neighbor.
The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry announced on November 6 it had informed the European Commission that Sofia will block the so-called negotiating framework for North Macedonia, which is due to be the basis for the formal launch of EU accession talks.
Bulgaria wants Skopje to acknowledge that both its identity and language have Bulgarian roots, thereby ending any claims that there is a distinct Macedonian minority in Bulgaria.
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.
In its statement, Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry insisted that Sofia’s demands should be included in the EU negotiating framework.
It rejected a declaration of the EU Council accompanying the framework, saying such a document “is not a legally binding instrument and does not provide the legal guarantees sought by Bulgaria.”
Officials of the two countries have held talks in the past two weeks to try to resolve their differences ahead of a meeting of EU member states' foreign ministers later this month. That meeting, initially scheduled for November 10, has been postponed by a week.
The dispute poses yet another challenge for Skopje, which signed a historic agreement with Athens in 2018 under which North Macedonia changed its name from Macedonia, removing a barrier to potential EU membership.
In March, EU leaders gave North Macedonia -- and Albania -- formal approval to begin talks to join the bloc.