North Macedonia's constitution will be amended to recognise a Bulgarian minority and in exchange Bulgaria will allow its West Balkan neighbour to start membership talks with the European Union.

North Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic, has been a candidate for EU membership for 17 years but approval for talks was first blocked by Greece and then by Bulgaria.
North Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic, has been a candidate for EU membership for 17 years but approval for talks was first blocked by Greece and then by Bulgaria. (Reuters)

Lawmakers in North Macedonia have passed a French-brokered deal aimed at settling a dispute with Bulgaria and clearing the way to long-due European Union membership talks.

With 68 votes, the 120-seat parliament voted in favour of the agreement on Saturday. Opposition lawmakers did not participate in the vote and left the room.

The deal proposes that North Macedonia's constitution be amended to recognise a Bulgarian minority, while the remaining issues be discussed between Skopje and Sofia. The proposal does not require Bulgaria to recognise the Macedonian language. 

In exchange, Bulgaria will allow its West Balkan neighbour to start membership talks with the EU.

After the agreement was adopted, governing party deputies rolled out EU and North Macedonian flags. 

The main opposition nationalist VMRE-DPMNE party bloc has spearheaded daily protests since the beginning of July over the deal that they say endangers the Macedonian language and identity.

Bulgaria's parliament lifted its veto on Macedonian-EU talks last month. This also triggered protests in Bulgaria and contributed to a no-confidence vote that toppled the government.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies