North Macedonia, along with Albania, has received the green light to start membership talks with the European Union — but this recommendation must first be approved unanimously by EU leaders in June before the two Balkan countries can take any further steps toward EU membership.
Some countries such as France, the Netherlands and Denmark seem to have little or no appetite for a further EU enlargement over fears of stoking further domestic euroscepticism.
Nikola Dimitrov, the foreign minister of North Macedonia, said the bloc risks losing credibility if it prevents the country from joining the EU.
In an interview with Euronews, Dimitrov said: "Saying 'no' to North Macedonia this year essentially undermines the credibility of the European Union in the region. Stakes are quite high both on the EU side and our side."
"For the region, we have only two competing visions. The European vision for the region is to become all better democracies, govern by the rule of law, cooperating each other, trading. The other competing vision is the focus on borders especially on ethnic borders and we saw what happened in the '90s with that vision. So I think the stakes are quite high," said Dimitrov.
North Macedonia, which has been a candidate country since 2005, last year solved a nearly three-decade name dispute with Greece when it changed its name and its constitution — although there were strong reactions in the Hellenic Republic.
For Skopje, this was the main obstacle for their way to Europe and NATO.
"We managed to become greater without changing territories because it tells a lot for a country when you see how a country treats its neighbours," he said.
"So, it took a great leadership and thinking about what we would like to see 10 years from now and not how to score more points at the next elections to do this."