Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia without Borders in “Open Balkan” Initiative in 2023

Three out of the six Western Balkan countries will abolish border controls in January 2023 in the frame of the initiative “Open Balkan”.  Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia have agreed to rename their initiative for regional cooperation “Mini Schengen” calling it “Open Balkan” at the meeting of Prime Ministers of Albania and North Macedonia, Edi Rama and Zoran Zaev, and President of Serbia Alexandar Vucic held in Skopje.

The meeting, which was preceded by different activities on Wednesday, was attended by political leaders and some 300 businessmen of the three countries.

Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina have not joined this initiative, but its three promoters from Tirana, Skopje and Belgrade were unanimous that anyone could join when they considered themselves ready to do so.

The host of the meeting North Macedonia PM Zaev said that a new era of cooperation in the region of the Western Balkans began on Thursday. “I want to assure you, and I think it is obvious, that our political will, that of President Vučić, Prime Minister Rama and mine, is an expression of our maximum commitment to provide all conditions that depend on the governments of our three countries for effective regional cooperation,” he said as quoted by FoNet news agency.

Zaev assessed that connectivity is necessary for the development of economies, the development of the region and for a better life for every citizen in the Western Balkans. As he pointed out, the massive response of businessmen to the invitation to participate in the Economic Forum for Regional Cooperation, which was also held in Skopje, is a strong message that the Balkan region is beginning to create the highest level of understanding that economic connection is vital.

It was announced that border controls between the three countries will be abolished by 2023. In addition, the leaders signed three documents: Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation on Facilitating Import, Export and Movement of Goods in the Western Balkans, the Memorandum on Free Access to the Labor Market and the Agreement on Cooperation in Disaster Protection, reported N1.

Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama said the region cannot continue to move forward if it remains a prisoner of the past. “We should not turn our backs on each other, as we have done for the past 500 years,” Rama said. According to him, this is not an exclusive initiative of Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia. “Every country that wants to join should do it on its own, and not create a caricature of the Balkans, and send it to Brussels. We do not have the luxury of wasting time, because we have lost decades and centuries,” said Edi Rama. He added that unresolved issues in the region could not be resolved more easily if the potential for association was denied. “I believe that all countries should be part of this process, because it is a benefit for them and their citizens, and every day of looking back is a day lost,” the Albanian Prime Minister emphasized.

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić also stated that the “Open Balkan” initiative is open to all other countries in the region that want it and that anyone who wants to join is welcome, but no reason for someone to pray, FoNet reported.

“We are open to everyone, but I do not understand why we would ask anyone. We are doing our job; it is our job to show responsibility towards the citizens and raise the economies of the three countries. Our three countries will attract more than 80 percent of investments in the Western Balkans. Political issues are also easier to resolve when you attract investors.” said Vučić at the joint final press conference. As he pointed out, every time this initiative is mentioned, someone asks where Pristina, Sarajevo and Podgorica are, but the message is that everyone chooses their path.

“If we had made such an initiative with Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, they would have accused us of making a Greater Serbia,” Vučić said.

Vučić asked how, on the other hand, the authorities of other countries in the region would explain to their citizens why they have to wait at the borders of Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania, and their citizens “zero minutes”.

“This initiative is changing everything in the region. We will have to work a lot and I believe that we will succeed,” concluded Vučić. //