SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria plans to voice its opposition on Tuesday to starting European Union accession talks with neighbouring North Macedonia as the two countries have yet to settle disputes over history and language, Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said.
The EU's European affairs ministers are expected to discuss launching accession negotiations with North Macedonia on Nov. 17. If any country votes against the framework for negotiations, accession talks cannot be formally launched.
"Bulgaria is saying 'No' to the start of negotiations, we are not saying 'No' to North Macedonia's accession to the EU," Zaharieva told private broadcaster BTV on Sunday.
She said North Macedonia is not delivering on the friendship treaty between the two Balkan neighbours signed in 2017 and has policies based on hatred towards Bulgaria.
Sofia wants its neighbour to recognise that its nation and language have Bulgarian roots and it wants it to put an end to anti-Bulgarian rhetoric. Skopje says its identity and language are not open to discussion.
Despite talks in the past month that also included Germany, which hopes negotiations with North Macedonia can begin while Berlin has the EU rotating presidency until the end of the year, the Balkan neighbours have yet to reach an agreement.
"No one is disputing their right to self-define their nation and call their language what they like. But we cannot agree that this right will be based on hatred, history theft and denial of Bulgaria," Zaharieva said.
North Macedonia's prime minister, Zoran Zaev, said he had been prepared for such a move and there was still time until the end of December for the convening of the first intergovernmental conference to launch accession talks.
"I expect responsibility, a sign of friendship from the Bulgarian side," he told reporters. "We need friendship, a helping hand, to walk the European path together."
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia and Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Editing by Hugh Lawson)