THESSALONIKI (Reuters) – North Macedonia is disappointed by the failure of the European Union to open accession talks, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Thursday, but his country was still committed to joining the bloc.
French President Emmanuel Macron led a small group of EU leaders who blocked opening talks with Albania and North Macedonia in October despite concerns over increasing Chinese and Russian influence in the Balkans.
“We are disappointed,” Zaev told reporters after meeting his Greek counterpart, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on the sidelines of a summit in the Greek city of Thessaloniki.
Zaev said he had ‘huge encouragement’ from Mitsotakis for the country realising its goal. The Greek premier said he had an agenda to assist the country, Zaev said.
“There is no alternative for us,” Zaev said, referring to North Macedonia’s EU aspirations.
After Skopje agreed to end a dispute with Greece over the country’s name – changing it to North Macedonia from Macedonia – the former Yugoslav republic had expected to be granted a date to start entry talks with the EU.
Macron said the membership bids of Albania and North Macedonia could not progress until the EU changes how and when candidates are vetted on meeting accession targets which range from economic policy to human rights and the rule of law.
Paris says the EU faces too many challenges to let in two more states from the Balkans, a region still scarred by the legacy of 1990s wars and struggling with crime and corruption.
However, the European Commission has said blocking their accession damages the credibility of the bloc.
(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Alexandra Hudson, Giles Elgood)