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Meeting young Macedonians, divided over EU membership

Noemi, a young Macedonian woman, has been living in Brussels for the past few weeks. Like her, a quarter of the population is estimated to have left the country in the past ten years.
Noemi, a young Macedonian woman, has been living in Brussels for the past few weeks. Like her, a quarter of the population is estimated to have left the country in the past ten years. © FRANCE 24

For the past 15 years, North Macedonia has been a candidate to join the European Union. Its application has recently made sudden progress in Brussels. In this small Balkan state, which went so far as to change its name to meet European criteria, what does the young generation think of the country's EU membership bid? Our reporters went to the capital Skopje to meet young Macedonians, who are torn between hope and disillusion over the European dream.

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For several weeks, the European institutions have all been focused on managing the public health crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. But surprisingly, they have found a way to move forward on a completely different issue: EU enlargement.

On Tuesday, March 24, a milestone was reached for North Macedonia and Albania. The 27 EU European affairs ministers gave the green light to opening accession talks with Skopje and Tirana. "Your future is in [the] EU," the European Commissioner for Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, tweeted as he welcomed the news.

>> Joining the club – or not? Balkan states seek a 'European perspective'

The Macedonians have spared no effort to meet European criteria. In June 2019, the country went so far as to change its name, when the "former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" officially became "North Macedonia". This new name made it possible to settle an old dispute with Greece, which had categorically blocked any prospect of its neighbour’s accession.

Despite these advances, there is still a long way to go for the small Balkan republic. The process of it joining the European Union, with the bloc still reeling from Brexit, is expected to take years.

Indeed, some Macedonians prefer to leave and try their luck directly in Europe. According to World Bank statistics, a quarter of the population has gone into exile in the past 10 years. But in Skopje, North Macedonia’s capital, other young people are choosing to invest in their country, where they still hope to one day become European. Our reporters Alix Le Bourdon and Ana Krstinovska went to meet them.

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