Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has expressed confidence that fellow Balkan nations Albania and North Macedonia will be able to soon begin long-delayed membership talks with the European Union.
Plenkovic on January 9 told a joint news conference in Zagreb with European Council President Charles Michel that his country was attempting "to create a positive climate" that can lead to the two small countries reaching their goal of joining the EU.
Croatia on January 1 assumed the six-month rotating EU presidency and has expressed strong support for Tirana and Skopje, which have been frustrated by the lack of progress toward membership.
France and the Netherlands halted the opening of membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania last year, sparking disappointment and concern in the Western Balkans as Russia and China vie for influence in the volatile region.
Some EU leaders have expressed concerns that the two nations have not brought their governmental standards up to EU levels, and French President Emmanuel Macron has said he would continue to block the entry of new members until the process for admitting countries was reformed.
"France had certain reservations that were more of a conceptual nature," Plenkovic told reporters. "Is the methodology for the accession process good or not?"
The Croatian prime minister said the EU Commission has been working on a document containing suggestions for ways to improve the "methodology" for joining the EU. He did not elaborate.
To be eligible for membership, applicant nations must negotiate 35 policy areas, including finance, agriculture, transport, energy, social, and justice policy.
Macron said this week that he wanted an EU-Balkans summit scheduled for May to be "a moment of unity" for Europe and "a success."
Senior Croatian officials said they took those remarks to be a sign that a solution can be found, possibly before an EU leaders' meeting in March.
Michel said the bloc should send "a strong and clear signal" to Tirana and Skopje and that he and the Croatian leader would work in the coming weeks on how to give the two "clarity."