North Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has called for early elections after the European Union failed to open membership talks with the Balkan state, a key goal of his administration.
'This is what I'm proposing: organizing quick snap elections where you, citizens, will decide the road we are going to take,' Zaev said in a televised address on October 19.
His comments come a day after a handful of European Union countries led by France again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia as well as Albania.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called the failure of the 28 leaders meeting in Brussels on October 18 to agree to start formal accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana 'a historic error.'
'It's not a failure, it's a mistake. I feel really embarrassed,' EU Council President Donald Tusk added at a news conference after the summit.
'We are victims of the EU's historical mistake,' Zaev said in his October 19 address, echoing the words of Tusk.
'I am disappointed and angry and I know that the entire population feels this way,' Zaev continued.
He said he would meet with the president and other political leaders on October 20 to discuss the next steps.
The European Commission had said North Macedonia and Albania have done enough to begin accession talks, and EU member states had pledged that a firm decision on the two countries' future would be taken "no later than October."
Apart from France, all the other EU members agree that North Macedonia has made enough progress on reforms -- including changing its name from Macedonia to appease Greece -- to start talks.
Albania had less support, with the Netherlands and Denmark joining France in voicing reservations about its efforts against corruption and organized crime.
Speaking after the Brussels summit, French President Emmanuel Macron said he won't allow any new countries into the bloc until its enlargement procedures have been improved.
Opening membership talks with Skopje while closing the door to Tirana would have been a major political mistake, he added.
After returning from Brussels on October 17, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama regretted the deadlock, saying it was ' linked with an open confrontation within the EU itself.'
'The process of European integration will continue. Not because Paris, Berlin, Brussels or all of them are asking for it, but because it is needed to turn our country into a European, functional country,' Rama said on a talk show.
In a televised address, North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski said it was "not a time for disappointment and apathy, but a time for national unity."
"I'm convinced that if we are working together, we will succeed,' he added.
In the streets of Skopje, frustration and disappointment prevailed.
Rume Risteski, a resident of Skopje, said the deadlock shows that "the Europeans lie," leading to skepticism toward the EU.
Supporters of integrating new members have expressed concerns that delays over membership could aid attempts by Russia or China to increase their influence in the region.
The U.S. State Department expressed disappointment at the EU's failure to move forward on membership talks, saying Washington would 'remain a strategic partner of North Macedonia and Albania as they continue their work to strengthen the rule of law, further anti-corruption efforts, develop their economies, and fight organized crime.'
Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus also said that 'a positive decision would have...firmly pushed back against malign external actors, who seek to undermine Western values and the Euro-Atlantic community.'
She added that Washington hopes the EU will 'reach a consensus on a positive decision for both countries well in advance of the EU-Western Balkans Summit next May.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, RFE/RL's Balkan Service, and dpa
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