Macedonia says it is ready to accelerate accession talks to join the European Union after agreeing with Greece on a name change to end a decades-long dispute.
Speaking in Vienna on January 30 after meeting with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told reporters that Macedonia should soon be able to show "progress in the area of the rule of law and starting judicial reforms," as well as the fight against corruption and organized crime.
"We hope that by June we will have presented strong arguments to the European Council for getting a date for opening accession negotiations," Zaev said.
"We believe in European values, more so than some people in member states," Zaev added.
Greek lawmakers on January 25 narrowly approved the historic deal, which had already been ratified by Macedonia's parliament.
Under the agreement, signed last year by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Zaev, Macedonia will change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.
For almost three decades, Athens had opposed the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) joining the EU and NATO, arguing that the country's name implied territorial ambitions on Greece's own northern province of the same name.
Kurz, who has pushed for the bloc to accept members from the former Yugoslavia, noted that the Balkans were a vital part of Europe, and therefore should be for the EU as well.
"Austria will continue to stand alongside Macedonia and other Western Balkan countries. We want to support this region. We want, first of all, this region to become a part of the European Union, because the European Union will be comprehensive in geographical terms only after all Western Balkan states will become its members," Kurz said.
"This depends on conditions that must be fulfilled and progress that must be made, but I see firm determination [from Macedonia]," Kurz added.
The European Union presidency, currently held by Romania, said after a meeting between Macedonian and Romanian diplomats in Bucharest on January 28 that it also supported Macedonia's membership bid.
Romanian European Affairs Minister George Ciamba said that he wants Macedonia to open negotiations with the bloc in June at a meeting of EU ministers.