French President Emmanuel Macron has said he would support the EU starting formal membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania if the bloc's executive gives them a positive review next month.
Macron's comments at the Munich Security Conference on February 15 look set to end his freeze on the two Balkan countries' progress toward EU membership.
"We are waiting for the (European Commission) report in March ... depending on that, if the results are positive and confidence is established, then we should be in a position to open the negotiations," Macron told the conference.
Macron had refused to approve the start of so-called accession negotiations at a summit in October, saying the process of admitting new members needed to change.
Worried by Chinese and Russian influence in the six states that aspire to join the bloc -- Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and North Macedonia -- Germany and the European Commission said Macron was wrong to block them.
This month, the commission suggested reforms to the accession process along the lines of a French proposal made in November, giving EU governments more say and making it easier to stop or reset negotiations and freeze funds.
Macron's shift sets the stage for the 27 EU governments' assent before an EU-Balkan summit in Zagreb in May.
Denmark and the Netherlands, who supported Macron's position last year, are expected to drop their resistance, EU diplomats told Reuters.