SKOPJE, North Macedonia ( Associated Press) — North Macedonia has approved a French proposal that opens the way for negotiations to join the European Union and overcome objections from Bulgaria.
There were 68 votes in favor of the proposal in the 120-member chamber, with the left-wing coalition, which has 61 seats, drawing support from small ethnic Albanian parties. Opposition lawmakers walked out of the chamber in protest, abstaining from voting.
The protesters have gathered again in front of Parliament, as they have done every day for more than 10 days. At times, the protests have turned violent.
Under the proposal, announced by French President Emmanuel Macron last month, North Macedonia would commit to changing its constitution to recognize a Bulgarian minority, protect minority rights and ban hate speech, as demanded by Bulgaria, a member of the EU since 2007.
READ MORE: EU urges North Macedonia to support France’s proposed compromise with Bulgaria
The deal would also unlock the start of negotiations for neighboring Albania, another EU hope.
Macron stressed that the proposal does not question the official existence of a Macedonian language, but noted that, like all agreements, “it is based on compromises and a balance.”
But revising the constitution may prove too great a hurdle, requiring a two-thirds majority or 80 votes. The main opposition party, the center-right VMRO-DPMNE, and its allies, as well as a small left-wing party, with 46 seats between them, have declared that they will never agree to change the constitution.
READ MORE: German Chancellor tries to open North Macedonia’s candidacy to the EU
Lawmakers also voted to ensure that negotiations with the EU are conducted on a fair and principled basis, adhering to the norms of international law, with unqualified respect for the Macedonian language and national identity.
The country’s ruling coalition has endorsed the proposal as a reasonable compromise that does not jeopardize national interests and identity, while the opposition has denounced it as a national treason that gives in to Bulgaria’s questioning of history, language, the identity, culture and heritage of North Macedonia.
“This is a crime against the entire nation. Such a serious mistake has never happened since independence,” said VMRO-DPMNE lawmaker Aleksandar Nikoloski.
The French proposal has also roiled Bulgaria, where Prime Minister Kiril Petkov has accepted it. His centrist government was ousted in a no-confidence motion on June 22 when allies described Petkov’s willingness to lift North Macedonia’s EU veto as a “national treason.”