“Open Balkan” initiative meeting in Skopje creates new conditions for travel and trade
July 29 was marked by a meeting of three states, the so-called “Mini Schengen“ leaders in Skopje, where North Macedonia, Serbia and Albania have agreed to remove most of the barriers to travel and business at their borders by 2023. During the two-day meetings in the capital of Northern Macedonia, the regional cooperation initiative was unofficially renamed the “Open Balkan”. The countries signed three documents – two memoranda and one agreement.
The memoranda are mainly aimed at facilitating trade and unifying markets. One of the ideas discussed was the opening of unique high-speed lanes at border crossings in the Balkans to prioritize driving. It should also make it easier to issue work permits, recognize diplomas or professional qualifications, and make the labour market more accessible. The meeting also included a regional economic forum attended by more than 350 companies from the region.
Commenting on the reservations of other Western Balkan countries, including Montenegro, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zoran Zaev, the North Macedonia prime minister, said there was no reason the states could not join the existing core. He claims that the initiative remains open and that mentioned countries could participate.
Leaders have said that what divides the Western Balkans should not excuse a lack of cooperation. On the contrary, they argue that creating new conditions will help to increase countries’ international reputations. Moreover, they believe that Europe will respect the Balkans more if they remain united and willing to cooperate.
Montenegro, with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, were originally a part of this initiative but decided not to support it. As a reason for their decision, they state that they do not see any new specific benefits, as the facilitation of travel and trade is covered by the CEFTA agreement and bilateral agreements between states.