Reuters International

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev speaks during a news conference with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in Sofia, Bulgaria, June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov


SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria backs Macedonia's bid to join the European Union and NATO and the previously estranged Balkan neighbours will also sign a long-delayed friendship treaty, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Tuesday.

Prospects for improved relations between Macedonia and nearby Bulgaria and Greece have risen since a Social Democratic-led coalition government took power in Skopje on May 31, replacing right-wing nationalists.

In 2012 Bulgaria joined its southern neighbour and fellow EU state Greece in blocking Macedonia - formally known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM - from obtaining a start date for EU accession talks.

Greece's stance arose from its longstanding objection to the name Macedonia, saying this could imply territorial claims on the northernmost Greek province of the same name.

Sofia at the time accused Skopje of discriminating against minority ethnic Bulgarians in Macedonia and of generating an anti-Bulgarian atmosphere in the country.

"We are for stable Macedonia, for its NATO membership and then the EU," Borissov said on Tuesday after receiving new Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in Sofia. "The destabilisation of Macedonia means destabilising our borders."

Macedonia was without a functioning government from 2015 until last month, after a wiretapping scandal brought down a nine-year-long nationalist administration.

"Macedonia today closes a chapter of the history of nationalism and hatred," Zaev said.

"We are opening the door to a European future for all. "History can only bring us closer, not divide us. I have no prejudice in asking for help and support."

Borissov and Zaev said the friendship treaty would be signed on Aug. 2 when the Bulgarian premier visits Macedonia.

Last week Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said Athens would back Macedonia's European integration "in every way, once the name issue has been resolved". Athens has previously insisted Skopje use a compound name such as "New" or "Upper" Macedonia.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; editing by Mark Heinrich)


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