North Macedonia’s prime minister says the small Western Balkan nation is disappointed by the failure of the European Union to open accession talks but that his government will press forward with efforts to join the bloc.
"We are disappointed," Zoran Zaev told reporters on November 14 after meeting his Greek counterpart, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on the sidelines of a summit in Thessaloniki.
"There is no alternative for us," Zaev said, referring to potential EU membership.
The hopes for a quick start to accession talks for both North Macedonia and Albania were dashed in October when French President Emmanuel Macron led a small group of EU countries that blocked the opening of negotiations.
Macron has expressed concerns that the two nations' governmental standards are not up to EU levels, although many leaders in the bloc were angered by Macron’s move and have warned of the risks of increasing Chinese and Russian influence in the Balkans if accession moves are blocked.
France has also said the EU is facing too many challenges at this time to invite in in two states from the Western Balkans -- a region beset by ethnic tensions, crime, and corruption.
Zaev said he received 'huge encouragement' from Mitsotakis for its EU hopes, with the Greek prime minister telling him his agenda was to assist North Macedonia's efforts.
According to Greek media, Mitsotakis reiterated Athens' support for the inclusion of Western Balkan countries in the bloc, saying it would boost peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.
Greece has been crucial to North Macedonia hopes of joining the EU.
Skopje signed on to the so-called Prespes Agreement in June 2018 to end a long dispute with Athens and add "North" to its name because of Greece said the original name implied designs on the Greek province of Macedonia.
U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt said that "we welcome the attention Mitsotakis and his government have paid toward the full implementation of the Prespes Agreement, and unlocking the fantastic potential for Greek investments, businesses, and exports."