Political differences, however, are yet to be worked out.
By Klaudija Lutovska for Southeast European Times in Bitola -- 07/08/13
Prime ministers Plamen Oresharski (left) and Nikola Gruevski meet in Kystendil. [Macedonia government]
An informal meeting between Macedonian and Bulgarian government leaders last week in Kystendil, Bulgaria, promoted the two countries' neighbourly relations.
The meeting was part of the Macedonian government's regional co-operation project to initiate a series of bi-lateral meetings with the country's neighbours.
"Differences in the political and foreign policy area should not be any obstacle for the development of relations between the two countries, especially economic and trade relations as well as better infrastructure connections," Bulgaria Prime Minister Plamen Oresarski said.
Oresarski said Bulgaria supports Macedonia's membership in NATO and the EU, and insists on respecting the 1999 Bulgaria-Macedonia agreement for good neighbourly relations and co-operation.
"We ... hope work on it will continue at a faster pace," Oresarski said.
Oresarski also said a step toward overcoming existing misunderstandings would be for the countries to organise joint celebrations of historical events and people.
Macedonia Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said his delegation emphasised the importance of strengthening regional co-operation and that there is room to improve economic ties.
"It is of interest to Macedonia and Bulgaria to establish more concerted co-operation on trade, energy and rail and road infrastructure," Gruevski said.
"We discussed the deepening of economic relations -- increasing trade, investment, joint infrastructure projects with emphasis on Corridor No. 8, energy and agricultural development, especially utilising the experiences of the Phytosanitary Authority of Bulgaria," said Vladimir Pesevski, deputy prime minister for economic affairs of Macedonia.
Bulgaria was the first country to recognise Macedonia in 1992 under its name.
But Macedonian analysts point out Bulgaria does not recognise a Macedonian people and language, and in addition to the demand for joint historical celebrations, some expect obstacles on Macedonia's way to EU integration.
"The Bulgarian position is worse than the Greek one. The Greeks do not dispute that we have a separate national identity, just [claim] that we are not Macedonians," Risko Nikovski, former Macedonian ambassador to the United Kingdom, told SETimes.
Some Bulgarian officials insist celebrating historical events jointly is a step in the right direction, but blame Macedonia for not acting.
"It would be enough for Macedonian authorities simply to show political will to reach a political solution," Evgeny Kiriliv, Bulgarian European MP, told Focus.
Other analysts said Macedonia should also put emphasis on shared security arrangements, especially with Bulgaria and Serbia, and the government's regional meetings provide an opportunity.
"I am deeply convinced the Macedonian political leadership will proceed with strengthening of all possible relations with Bulgaria and Serbia," Toni Naunovski, dean at the University MIT in Skopje, told SETimes.
A new meeting with the Bulgarian leadership will take place later this year and possibly with Albania and Kosovo as well. A meeting with Serbia's leadership concluded in June.
How important do you think Macedonia's relationship with Bulgaria will be as Skopje attempts to integrate with the EU? Add your opinion in the comment section.