North Macedonia’s parliament on Saturday approved the negotiation framework for EU accession talks proposed by the EU Commission, which also contains a compromise proposal in the dispute with neighboring Bulgaria. This fuels the hopes of the EU Commission that this will clear the way for the start of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, which Bulgaria had previously blocked with a veto.

The applications from Albania and North Macedonia will be dealt with jointly by the EU Commission. It was initially unclear whether Bulgaria would agree to the compromise, especially since a government crisis is currently raging there.

The decision of the parliament in Skopje was made without dissenting votes – albeit in the absence of the nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE, whose MPs had left the hall in protest, as reported by the North Macedonian news agency Makfax.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) congratulated on Twitter: “I welcome the vote of the Macedonian Parliament, which clears the way for the first accession conferences of the European Union with North Macedonia and Albania,” he wrote. “We want you to become members of the European Union and we will accompany you on this path.”

Congratulations also came from the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. “This was a historic opportunity,” von der Leyen wrote. “This is a big step on your way to a European future.” Michel added: “Our future is together and we welcome you with open arms.” The US also welcomed the parliamentary decision: “This is a defining moment for Europe ‘ Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said on Twitter.

North Macedonia has been waiting for accession talks with the EU to begin since 2008. Most recently, the neighboring country and EU member Bulgaria blocked this. It wanted to wrest concessions from North Macedonia on minority, historical interpretation and language issues. The French EU Council Presidency drew up a compromise proposal. The Bulgarian Parliament authorized its government to approve this proposal. However, following a vote of no confidence in Parliament, Bulgaria currently only has an acting government. It remains to be seen whether this or a possible successor government will stick to the parliamentary decision.

On this basis, North Macedonia’s social-democratic government is ready to start accession negotiations. The nationalist opposition, but also liberal critics, fear that the compromise will allow Bulgaria to further block the progress of accession negotiations.

Von der Leyen countered these concerns. The proposal recognizes the Macedonian language without restrictions, she said last week. “Bilateral issues like interpreting history are not conditions of accession talks.”