In the early 2000s, North Macedonia was a frontrunner on the path to EU membership as the first post-Yugoslav republic to sign both a membership action plan with NATO (in 1999) and a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU (in 2001). But it has since been overtaken by a number of its neighbors. This report, authored by Damir Marusic and Dimitar Bechev, offers a snapshot of a North Macedonia finally on the threshold of EU accession talks. It outlines the myriad challenges that face North Macedonia as it struggles to chart a path forward in Europe’s shadow. It can be read as a reform agenda—a laundry list of things that need to be done in order for the country to prepare itself for final accession.
Western leaders—and especially those in Europe—looking at North Macedonia in the context of a slowdown in EU enlargement, should ask themselves how they can be more productively and strategically engaged. Because North Macedonia, like the Western Balkans in general, represents not so much a problem to be managed but an opportunity to be seized. If the Western Balkans Six—North Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina—build on existing momentum toward deeper mutual cooperation, new avenues of integration with the rest of Europe become conceivable.