Is WB a ‘Small Caricature of the EU’?

Editor’s take 

The prestigious British daily the Financial Times has covered the trilateral economic forum with the participation of prime ministers of Albania and North Macedonia, Edi Rama and Zoran Zaev, and Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic. The highlight of the event, which was also attended by 300 businessmen from different countries in Skopje on Thursday, opened the way to a borderless regime between Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia as of January 1, 2013 under the new Open Balkan frame, previously known as Mini Schengen.

Quoting Financial Times Serb daily Politika carried passages of comments by the three leaders on July 30.  Let’s start with what Albania’s PM was quoted as saying.

Financial Times cited Rama as saying that they were pushing ahead without the other Balkan states “to lead by example and not get stuck in a small caricature of the EU, where for everything you need consensus and everyone can veto any decision.”

At the forum’s opening, North Macedonian PM, Zoran Zaev, the host of the Forum, said, “a new era of cooperation in the Western Balkans starts today.” He added that over 300 companies and some hundred representatives of the chambers of commerce and business communities from other Balkans’ countries and states outside the region participated in the forum.

The newspaper quoted Zaev as saying that “the final goal is to be a member country of the EU. But until the EU decides… we need to find ways to… continue the process of Europeanisation.”

Serbia’s Vucic said the so-called Mini Schengen showed the past could be left behind, and the eyes could focus on the future. The initiative was renamed the Open Balkan.

He added that those three countries could become “a development force of this part of Europe.”  Vucic said the move was not directed against anyone but aimed “at a sacred goal for people to live better”.

However, the Financial Times said on Wednesday that “the trio hit out at Brussels over the slow pace of EU enlargement”.

Financial Times described the initiative as a travel and business zone modelled on the EU free-travel arrangement would include a gradual easing of travel restrictions, faster ‘green lanes’ at borders, reduced waiting times for freight and easier access to work permits.” Although more details will come out later there are some appealing elements which constitute striking highlights and show that one of the targets of the Forum and initiative has been to exert pressure on Brussels regarding the dragging of the EU accession process of the Western Balkan countries.

But perusing the quotation it draws the attention among others the irony of Albanian premier according to whom the promoters of the Open Balkans were pushing ahead “not to get stuck in a small caricature of the EU”.

A question arises: Does Mr. Rama really mean that Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia have turned into a ‘small caricature of the EU’? Time will show if Brussels accepts that WB countries are ‘caricature’ of the Union. In addition, do the people of the region believe their countries have become a ‘small caricature of the EU”? If this is true it is hurtful… Anyway, will the Union's bureaucracy consider the trio’s hit out at Brussels over the slow pace of EU enlargement and change course, speeding up the process?

It is not the first time that WB leaders have criticized the EU member countries for the delay of the enlargement. Some countries have admitted that, some others have simply ignored it. In addition, Bulgaria seems determined in its veto on North Macedonia freezing its further steps in the accession process. Albania suffers together with it.

What remains wide open is the question: Does really Brussels see WB as a ‘small caricature of the EU’? If it is so, its architects should not be jealous of the efforts of the regional countries to develop relations with other powers like Russia, China, Turkey etc. After all it is a question of survival in a situation of plenty of dilemmas and challenges. /