The messages of the international representatives that North Macedonia and Albania should start the negotiations with the European Union for membership as soon as possible, were received with interest in Skopje and in the hope that by December, Bulgaria will lift the veto, which is the only obstacle to the European integration. Senior European officials, such as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, EU Enlargement and Neighborhood Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Gabriel Escobar, during visits last week in the region, said they "strongly support the formal opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania as soon as possible."
"You have the support of many friends in the EU and let us work hard to hold the first intergovernmental conference. This is our common goal, "said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a visit to Skopje on 28 September.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has said that expectations are high, but in the meantime has recalled that North Macedonia will not be able to make compromises regarding language and identity, on which there are disputes with Bulgaria.
"I sincerely believe that maybe by the end of the year we will find a solution, which will be based on European values, on European law that have to do with our identity, language and culture. These are very important values and should be respected. We respect all national identities, but we also want our Macedonian identity to be respected," Zaev said.
Simonida Kacarska, head of the Center for European Policy, told Radio Free Europe that the international community's statements were a clear message of their interest in EU enlargement in the Western Balkans, not just because the conditions were met but also other strategic EU policies.
Ismet Ramadani, chairman of the Euro-Atlantic Council of North Macedonia, told Radio Free Europe that institutions should not give up on efforts to lift the Bulgarian blockade, especially now that international pressure on Sofia has grown to keep it in check. European integration, which, according to Ramadan, is of great importance for both Skopje and the international community.
He believes that the United States, which in many cases has played a key role in overcoming internal crises and clashes between states, can play a major role in this case.
"Therefore, I consider that the moment should be used, but apparently without the bulldozer diplomacy of the USA here in the Balkans, no problem and no dispute is taking an epilogue. There are good signals that now the administration of (US, Joe) Biden has its representatives here (Gabriel) Escobar, who is creating the conditions that I hope that by the new year the dispute with Bulgaria will be resolved,"says Ramadani.
Bulgaria, an EU member state, vetoed North Macedonia in November 2020 over language and identity disputes. Sofia accepts the Macedonian language and identity, but only after 1945, before this period, they had "Bulgarian roots".