Zagreb and Skopje expect that North Macedonia will open accession negotiations with the European Union before the end of the year, North Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani said after meeting with Croatian leaders on Tuesday.
"Croatia is deeply imprinted on the collective memory of our European integration process. It all began in Croatia with the 2000 Zagreb Summit and ended in Croatia with the 2020 Summit," Osmani said after meeting with his Croatian counterpart Gordan Grlic Radman.
"We expect continued close cooperation in the further proces of accession of North Macedonia to the EU," Osmani added.
Osmani took office in late August, becoming the first ethnic Albanian in North Macedonia to fill this post.
Earlier in the day he met with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. The EU integration of North Macedonia was the main theme at both meetings.
Addressing the joint press conference, Grlic Radman said that Croatia "highly appreciates the reform efforts" made by North Macedonia which "demonstrated political courage" and resulted in the country's admission to NATO membership and getting the green light to open accession talks with the EU.
Grlic Radman welcomed "the tangible results" of the reform process in North Macedonia, which was also recognised by the European Commission.
In the progress report released earlier this month, the Commission said that North Macedonia had made good progress in combating corruption and reforming its judiciary and public administration.
Osmani said that North Macedonia "is developing an authentic way of developing ethnic relations which can serve as an example" to the region.
The Commission expressed concern about the dispute between Skopje and Sofia over identity and language, which might result in Bulgaria blocking North Macedonia's further progress towards EU membership, shortly after a long-standing dispute with Greece was settled with great effort.
Osmani said he was optimistic because it was in the interests of both Bulgarians and North Macedonians for his country to join the EU as soon as possible.
Osmani and Grlic Radman said that the Bulgarian minority in Croatia and the Croatian minority in Bulgaria were an important link between the two countries, announcing the possibility of opening cultural and information centres to boost ties.