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North Macedonia Parliament Starts Session on Constitutional Change

North Macedonia’s parliament on Friday started ten days of debate over a government-drafted proposal to change the constitution. For the bill to pass, it will need the support of two-thirds of all MPs, or 80 out of the 120 legislators.

The key change is listing Bulgarians among the state’s founding peoples. Bulgaria insists this is a key precondition for the country to resume EU accession talks, or risk being stalled again by a Bulgarian veto.

If the Social Democrat-led majority feels confident in a two-thirds majority, the issue could be put to a vote immediately after the ten days expire.

But since the government seems short of at least eight MPs to pass the change, two more options are at play.

The speaker could put the session on hold after the debate and set the vote for November, when the scheduled continuation of accession talks with the EU would put additional pressure on the opposition, led by the right-wing VMRO DPMNE party, to budge.

Alternatively, the vote might take place when the government and opposition possibly agree on a date for early general elections, which the opposition has been insisting on for the past year.

However, so far, the government has said it is not interested in early elections before regular polls due next year.

The government has told the opposition that a vote for the constitutional change would be a vote for the country’s EU membership, something its citizens have been awaiting for three decades.

“It will be up to you whether, with the acceptance of the constitutional change, we will continue the chapter negotiations for EU membership, or halt them for a longer term,” the Foreign Ministry wrote on Thursday in a letter to all parliamentarians.

But VMRO DPMNE chief Hristijan Mickoski told the media on Thursday night that they will not budge, and would only consider supporting the change under two conditions.

First, he said, the EU must issue guarantees that “unequivocally confirm Macedonian identity, culture, tradition and language”.

This addresses the worry among many Macedonians that, while Bulgaria recognizes North Macedonia as a state, it also claims that the Macedonian identity and language are of Bulgarian origin. This is deeply offensive for many Macedonians.

Second, Mickoski said Bulgaria needs to implement European Court of Human Rights rulings and recognise a Macedonian minority in the country.

The government in Sofia has been blocking Skopje’s EU accession talks over the unresolved history/identity dispute, and over claims there are far more than 3,000 Bulgarians in North Macedonia – this being the number who registered as Bulgarian in North Macedonia’s last 2021 census.

Bulgaria meanwhile does not recognize the existence of a Macedonian minority in its own country.

Over the past two decades, Bulgaria has lost 14 cases in Strasbourg, concerning complaints by Macedonian activists there that they are unable to register any association or a political party in Bulgaria. Sofia insists a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria does not exist.

Source : Balkan Insight