The inclusion of Bulgarians in the Constitution of North Macedonia is a frequently mentioned issue, especially in terms of North Macedonia’s tense relations with Bulgaria and the European Union (EU) membership process.
For North Macedonia, which has set EU membership as an important foreign policy goal for itself, there are obstacles arising from interstate problems that need to be resolved on the way to membership. As it is known, the Skopje administration resolved the dispute with Greece arising from the name “Macedonia” through the Prespa Agreement signed on 17 June 2018. However, the problems between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, another state that has the possibility of vetoing the EU accession process continue.
The Treaty of Friendship, Good-Neighbourliness and Cooperation signed between Bulgaria and North Macedonia in 2017 did not bring any concrete results either. Moreover, mutual accusations were made on the grounds that the obligations of the said treaty were not complied with.
However, Bulgaria demands that the recognition of the Bulgarian minority by North Macedonia be included in the constitution. In this context, France presented a proposal to the parties in 2022 that would allow Bulgaria to lift its veto. The proposal in question aimed to resolve the disagreement regarding the Bulgarian minority, which has become controversial both in the domestic policy of North Macedonia and in its relations with Bulgaria. However, upon the North Macedonian authorities’ declaring this proposal unacceptable, the proposal was revised and resubmitted, taking into account some objections.
Then, North Macedonia accepted this plan, and thus, the opening phase of accession negotiations with the EU was reached on 19 July 2022. It can be said that this development brought along a difficult process for the Government of North Macedonia, which has taken another important step towards the EU. Thus, the Government of North Macedonia is exposed to both the reactions of ethnic Macedonians and conservative nationalist politicians and the pressures of Bulgaria to implement the decision.
There are a number of obstacles are seen to exist to the government’s successful implementation of the relevant constitutional amendments. Article 131 of the Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia states the conditions that must be met for constitutional amendments as follows:
“The decision to introduce amendments to the Constitution is taken by the parliament by a majority of two-thirds of the total number of representatives. The draft constitutional amendment is approved by the parliament by a majority vote of the total number of representatives, and then it is submitted for public discussion. ‘The decision to amend the constitution is taken by the parliament with a two-thirds majority of the total number of representatives.’ The constitutional amendment is announced by the parliament.”
The Assembly of the Republic of North Macedonia has a total of 120 members. According to the conditions of the relevant article on constitutional amendments, 80 deputies, corresponding to a two-thirds majority of the total number of parliament, must approve the amendment decision.
It is seen that there is a substantial opposition within the country to these amendments, which the government wants to realize, especially with the motivation of progressing towards EU membership. In this manner, it is seen that the conservative Macedonian nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) opposes the inclusion of the Bulgarian minority in the Constitution. The situation in question creates difficulty in realizing the constitutional amendments adopted by the government. As a result of the parliamentary elections held in 2020, VMRO-DPMNE is the main opposition party in the parliament with 44 seats. This means that the government will have to convince VMRO-DPMNE deputies under all circumstances in order to obtain the required number of votes for constitutional amendments.
In return, VMRO-DPMNE has maintained its opposition to the inclusion of Bulgarians in the constitution since the submission of the French proposal. Finally, in February 2023, the party rejected the government’s call for negotiations within the scope of persuasion efforts for constitutional amendment. It is remarkable that VMRO-DPMNE responded to this call by saying that it “does not have the authority to discuss anything that is not approved by the citizens”. As a matter of fact, in a survey conducted by the Skopje Institute of Political Studies, 72,8% of the participating ethnic Macedonians responded negatively to the French proposal. But apart from this survey, there is also a segment that supports the constitutional amendments with the motivation of EU membership.
The situation in question shows that there are differences of opinion on the subject throughout the country. In addition to all these, it can be said that the prolonged process in the adoption of constitutional amendments in domestic policy has caused pressure from Bulgaria, where tensions in relations are rising.
As a result, the difficulties in front of the attempt to include Bulgarians in the constitution with the motivation of EU membership in North Macedonia could not be eliminated. Both in 2022 and in the first months of 2023, the reaction of the country’s public opinion and the events in the Assembly of the Republic of North Macedonia show that this problem will continue. In addition, it can be said that this situation creates a serious obstacle in terms of improving relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia.
 “North Macedonia, Greece: Rewriting History After Prespa”, Balkan Insight, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/06/17/north-macedonia-greece-rewriting-history-after-prespa/, (Date of Accession: 24.02.2023).
 “Government of North Macedonia Receives A New French Proposal”, European Western Balkans, https://europeanwesternbalkans.com/2022/06/30/government-of-north-macedonia-receives-a-new-french-proposal/, (Date of Accession: 24.02.2023).
 “Intergovernmental Conference on the Accession of North Macedonia”, Delegation of the European Union to North Macedonia, https://www.eeas.europa.eu/delegations/north-macedonia/intergovernmental-conference-accession-north-macedonia_en?s=229, (Date of Accession: 24.02.2023).
 “The Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia”, Assembly Republic of North Macedonia, https://www.sobranie.mk/the-constitution-of-the-republic-of-macedonia-ns_article-constitution-of-the-republic-of-north-macedonia.nspx, (Date of Accession: 24.02.2023).
 “EM North Macedonia: Review of the 2020 parliamentary elections in North Macedonia”, European Movement, https://europeanmovement.eu/member_update/em-north-macedonia-review-of-the-2020-parliamentary-elections-in-north-macedonia/, (Date of Accession: 24.02.2023).
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