The European Union's top enlargement official on Wednesday held out new hope that the block will start accession talks within months with North Macedonia and Albania, whose bids were frustrated last year.
Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said the two countries "are ready" for the start of membership talks, adding that the block's executive will recommend the start of the negotiations in the spring.
Speaking at a joint press conference with caretaker Prime Minister Oliver Spasovski in Skopje, the capital city, Varhelyi also urged North Macedonia to press on with EU-mandated reforms, particularly in the country's judiciary.
He said Skopje should also fully implement a historic name deal that normalized relations with neighboring Greece, and a friendship agreement with another neighbor, Bulgaria.
The deal with Greece was supposed to ease North Macedonia's path towards future EU membership. But last October, a handful of EU members, led by France, blocked the start of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania demanding a new methodology for the accession process.
This caused deep disappointment in both Balkan countries.
Varhelyi said a "new package" for the start of membership talks must be "more predictable, with better dynamics".
He also said that EU Commission will recommend an economic plan for the Western Balkan countries at the EU's summit in Zagreb in May.
He will be visiting Albania on Thursday.