Macedonia and Bulgaria signed a historic friendship treaty that opens the way for deeper cooperation between the two neighbours on August 1.
کد خبر: ۷۱۷۹۹۸
تاریخ انتشار: ۱۱ مرداد ۱۳۹۶ - ۱۲:۰۷ 02 August 2017

Macedonia and Bulgaria signed a historic friendship treaty that opens the way for deeper cooperation between the two neighbours on August 1.  

The treaty, which was signed shortly after a new government took power in Skopje and followed years of negotiations aimed at the conclusion of such an agreement, also strengthens Macedonia’s prospects for Euro-Atlantic integration. However, it drew criticism from the opposition in both countries. 

Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev and his Bulgarian peer Boyko Borissov signed the treaty in Skopje during the first day of Borissov's two-day visit to Macedonia.

The rights and obligations of the two countries that stem from the treaty are packed into five pages containing 14 articles. Macedonian and Bulgarian ministers also signed two memorandums for cooperation, one on the development of railway infrastructure and the second in the field of natural gas.

"With this agreement we showed that if there is a political will all issued can be solved,” Zaev, who looked obviously cheerful, said after the signing ceremony. Borissov appeared somewhat tense at the event.

The friendship treaty, which sparked controversies in the two countries, is intended to put an end to all disputes arising from history, language and minority issues, which have resulted in a troubled and complex relationship between Skopje and Sofia. Most importantly it could help Macedonia secure support from Bulgaria for its EU accession process. 

For Zaev, the treaty closes outstanding issues from the past and opens the way for collaboration in many fields, as well as contributing to the political stability of the whole region.

"Let the treaty be a model for cooperation in the region,” Zaev said in a live broadcast on 24vesti.

According to Zaev, the agreement will also create opportunities for greater economic development and cooperation on road and gas infrastructure.

"It will be of benefit for citizens of the both countries," Zaev said.

The Macedonian prime minister underlined that the agreement is sending a message to the EU and Nato that governments in the Balkans can build bridges and deserve membership in international organisations.

Borissov said "You'll see the reactions in the EU after the signing of this treaty, they will be positive.

"If we look back we can stumble and fall, so we decided to look forward,” Borissov added.

The Bulgarian prime minister also underlined the importance of the two memorandums, particularly for the construction of the Pan-European Corridor VIII, which links Bulgaria and Albania via Macedonia, and opportunities for receiving EU funds for such projects.

The gas memorandum opens the way for a direct gas connection between Macedonia and Bulgaria, Borissov noted.

Internal opposition

Asked about the criticism expressed by the Macedonian opposition VMRO-DPMNE party about the treaty, Borissov said that critics are everywhere, also in Bulgaria. 

"But you will see the results if the memorandums are implemented,” Borissov said optimistically.

VMRO-DPMNE had asked for the friendship treaty to be examined in an urgent open session in the parliament to allow the public to know what will be signed and to be aware of "the benefits for the Bulgarian side and disadvantage for Macedonia”.

According to VMRO, the treaty is harmful for Macedonia and could worsen relations between the two countries in future.

The possibility of signing such a treaty were discussed when VMRO-DPMNE was in power between 2006 and early 2017, but no agreement was ever signed. 

Zaev said previously, when he revealed details of the treaty, that the agreement is not against the national interests of either country.

"This agreement is in accordance with the national interests of Macedonia and reflects the new spirit of politics and of the new generation of politicians who are ready to build bridges," Zaev said earlier.

Zaev also called on August 1 for VMRO-DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski to accept the treaty.

Three months after the signing of the agreement, an intergovernmental commission will be set up, which will headed by the foreign ministers of both countries.

The commission will be tasked with monitoring the implementation of the treaty. The joint celebration of holidays and historical figures will also be coordinated.

Macedonia's EU perspective

The idea of a "friendship treaty” between Macedonia and Bulgaria has existed for a long time, but was revived during Zaev’s visit to Sofia in June, when Borissov endorsed the idea.

EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn immediately welcomed the treaty on friendship, good neighbourliness and cooperation between Bulgaria and Macedonia.

"This agreement demonstrates the determination of both sides to overcome bilateral issues and is an inspiration for the whole region. It is a positive step forward in good neighbourly relations and boosts the EU perspective of Macedonia in the interest of its citizens," they said in a joint statement.

On August 2, there will be a joint commemoration with the Bulgarian delegation of the Macedonian national holiday Ilinden in the church of St. Spas in Skopje, as agreed in the treaty.

Ilinden is of special importance for Macedonia as it marks the beginning of the uprising against the Ottoman empire in 1903 and the foundation of Macedonia as a republic in 1944 as part of former Yugoslavia.

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