Bulgaria's leaders have expressed their strong support for North Macedonia's road to joining the European Union, a departure from Sofia's earlier objections to North Macedonia starting talks to join the bloc.
"Our aim is to create a favorable environment of trust, friendship, and open dialogue that will help our specialists to sit down and find the correct solutions," Bulgarian caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Yanev said on June 17 following discussions in Sofia with a Macedonian delegation headed by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
The start of North Macedonia's accession talks was blocked by EU member Bulgaria in 2020 due to disputes over history, national identity, and language.
Bulgaria wants North Macedonia to formally recognize that its language has Bulgarian roots, while Skopje has said any question of its identity and language are not negotiable.
Sofia's decision to block the start of EU accession talks was backed by all of Bulgaria's political parties in parliament, and the current caretaker government is powerless to change the position. However, it could prepare changes to legislation that could be approved by the new parliament that will be voted in during early elections in July.
While a joint commission of historians have failed to resolve the standoff, the two neighboring countries have recently renewed efforts to resolve their differences, and the trip to Sofia by Zaev and other high-ranking Macedonian officials was seen as an opportunity for a breakthrough.
The North Macedonia delegation included the country's deputy prime minister for EU affairs, Nikola Dimitrov, and Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani.
Zaev met with representatives of Bulgaria's main parties, as well as Prime Minister Yanev and President Rumen Radev.
"I am convinced that today's meetings here in Sofia will bring about only good for both brotherly nations," Zaev said after he and Yanev agreed to put an end to the recent hateful rhetoric between the two countries.
"I appeal on the brotherly Bulgarian nation -- through its leaders -- to continue to help the Republic of North Macedonia on our path toward the European Union. We have no alternative," Zaev added.
President Radev called the improvement of bilateral relations with North Macedonia "of extraordinary importance," and said that "it is our duty to arrange things in a way so that our peoples are given a joint European future and the possibility to engage in mutual contact much more freely."