BRUSSELS -- Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov has said that he is confident his country will get closer to EU membership "in the next year or so," as Skopje pursues efforts to improve strained ties with EU members Bulgaria and Greece.
Speaking at the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs in Brussels, Dimitrov said on October 10 that it is important for Macedonia to "make the next step."
"We have institutions ... that have seen what happens when there is no engagement with the region, when there is no perspective. We have member states that are now, I think, more willing to be engaged. We want to have a very clean plate so that the [European] Commission has an unconditional recommendation."
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia applied for EU membership in 2004. The following year, the European Commission issued a favorable opinion and the European Council decided to grant the country candidate status.
Since 2009, the Commission has recommended that accession negotiations be opened, but Macedonia's neighbors Greece and Bulgaria, which are also NATO members, have blocked the process.
With the next recommendation due in the spring of 2018, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s new government hopes to make progress toward improving ties with Athens and Sofia.
In August, Zaev co-signed a friendship treaty with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in Skopje in an attempt to end years of feuding.
In the document, Bulgaria pledged to support Macedonia's efforts to join both. The two countries said they would also improve economic ties, renounce territorial claims, and improve human and minority rights.
In the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki last week, Dimitrov held talks with Nikos Kotzias, his counterpart from Greece, in an effort to solve a long-standing dispute involving the name Macedonia.
"We are fully aware that we cannot fight our way in by making Greece an adversary," Dimitrov said in Brussels "We have to talk our way in and use the process to get even closer and be a close friend and future ally with Greece."