Pressure from EFA makes EU Commission apologize for a terminological mistake referring to the Macedonian minority

EFA welcomes the apology but still believes that Commissioner Reynders should apologize directly

The situation of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria proves that the EU treaties must be revised to guarantee the rights of all European minorities

One year and a half after European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders answered a letter to EFA in which he referred to the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria as the “North Macedonian minority”, we have finally received an official apology for this terminological mistake. A letter acknowledging this inaccuracy was issued this June from the Directorate of Justice. This answer comes after EFA complained to the European Ombudsman last January after waiting more than one year for a reply from the Commissioner.

We welcome the apology. Nevertheless, we want to draw attention to the fact that the apology does not come from Commissioner Reynders himself but from his staff. Together with our member party OMO Ilinden Pirin, we believe that Commissioner Reynders should apologise directly so excuses come from the same level as the original mistake. 

“North Macedonian” is not a term of self-identification by ethnic Macedonians in Bulgaria or by any Macedonian regardless of their citizenship, and its use is out of step with well-established international practice. Various international bodies respect the right to self-identification of the Macedonian minority in reports and correspondence over many decades. These include the European Court of Human Rights, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, and the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, amongst others.

We call for urgent reform of the treaties

The original matter that brought EFA to write to the Commissioner was the aim to draw attention to the mistreatment and discrimination faced by the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. The letter asked the Commission to step in and mediate and to include Bulgaria’s treatment of the minority in the annual rule of law report, and demanded that Bulgaria implements relevant judgments of the ECHR.

In his reply, the Commissioner underlined that “the respect of the rights of persons belonging to minorities is one of the founding values of the European Union and a principle explicitly mentioned in the Treaty on European Union”. Even so, he explained that the European Commission does not have general powers regarding minorities, so it can only intervene in matters falling inside the scope of EU law.  The main responsibility in any other matters rests with the Member States. In this case, Bulgaria is responsible to comply with international law, something that is clearly not happening.

 “We invite Commissioner Reynders to visit Bulgaria in person and see the situation of the Macedonian minority there first-hand, as they continue to face violence and persecution, as well as the infringement of their democratic rights by the state”, said EFA President Lorena López de Lacalle. We acknowledge that the EU has no power over minority policy, but this needs to change. Bulgaria will never act to secure the minority’s rights without outside pressure. Examples such as this show that the EU must have the competencies to intervene. Therefore, we call for an urgent reform of the treaties that allows Europe to better cope with these challenges and guarantee basic rights for all its citizens.