Macedonia, Bulgaria sign friendship accord eying EU

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov arrived in Macedonia to sign a long-awaited friendship treaty with neighboring Balkan countries. | Youtube snapshot 

The Republic of Macedonia signed a friendship accord with Bulgaria in an attempt to improve ties between the Balkan neighbors and bring around efforts to join the European Union and NATO, a move which was welcomed by the EU.

Sources reported that former Yugoslav republic’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, and his Bulgarian counterpart, Boyko Borissov, signed the pact Tuesday in Skopje, Macedonia’s capital.

Bulgaria had demanded the agreement “on friendship, good neighborly relations and cooperation” as a condition of backing Macedonia’s ambitions to become an EU and NATO member.

The move is part of a repeated EU-accession push in the Balkans, where countries including Serbia are bidding to follow Croatia, the most-recent entrant, into the trading bloc.

The European Union welcomed the signature of the bilateral “Treaty on friendship, good neighborliness and cooperation” between Bulgaria and Macedonia, said a statement written by HR/VP Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

“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 neighborly relations and boosts the EU perspective of Macedonia in the interest of its citizens,” Mogherini and Hahn said in the statement.

Zaev took office in June in Macedonia’s first leadership change in more than a decade, pledging to resolve conflicts with neighbors to revive his nation’s membership chances. Another obstacle is a naming dispute with Greece, which has a region called Macedonia.

“This treaty sends a message to EU and NATO that the countries in the region have political leaderships that build bridges, supported by democratic people,” Zaev told reporters in Skopje.

While the two countries share similar languages and maintain close cultural relations, Bulgaria -- an EU member since 2007 -- had accused Zaev’s predecessor of fueling anti-Bulgarian sentiment.

The friendship agreement, demanded by Bulgaria in 2012 in return for its backing on EU and NATO membership, is intended to prevent territorial claims and interference in domestic affairs based on historical disputes between the two countries.