Minister: Spain supports North Macedonia’s bid to join EU

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Spain backs North Macedonia’s bid to join the European Union, the country’s foreign minister said Friday.

José Manuel Albares Bueno announced his country’s support during a West Balkan tour that began Friday as he met with his North Macedonian counterpart, Bujar Osmani, in the capital of Skopje.

North Macedonia and neighboring Albania have been candidate countries since 2005 and launched membership negotiations with the EU last year in a process that is expected to take years.

Spain will take over the European Union’s presidency from Sweden in July.

Albares told reporters at a joint news conference that his country “supports the European perspective of the Western Balkans as an EU policy for gradual integration.”

“We want to strengthen our cooperation and I think that the opening of negotiations is a big step,” Albares said.

Disputes with neighbors have held up accession talks for North Macedonia. A spat with Greece over the use of the name Macedonia and the region’s ancient heritage lasted decades. The latest dispute, between North Macedonia and neighboring Bulgaria, an EU member since 2007, is also centered on Macedonian identity, as well as history, language and culture.

Bulgaria has said it will lift objections to the start of EU membership talks for North Macedonia in exchange for the country’s agreement to acknowledge an ethnic Bulgarian minority in its constitution.

But the constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority, or 80 votes in the 120-seat parliament. The governing coalition led by the center-left Social Democrats is backed by only 64 lawmakers. The conservative opposition has publicly opposed the change to the constitution.

Osmani said that North Macedonia “remains strongly committed to fulfilling the necessary obligations to continue the process of accession negotiations.”

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