The leaders of Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia have reiterated their commitment to create an area for the free movement of people, goods, services and capital in the Balkans – known as Mini-Schengen area – during their sixth summit on Tuesday.
The Albanian and Macedonian prime ministers, Edi Rama and Zoran Zaev, and Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic discussed during a video conference the need for the Balkan countries to increase regional collaboration while they also work to join the European Union.
It comes less than a week after the EU refused to launch accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia.
A press statement by Vucic’s office said they have called on other countries in the region to join the initiative. They also asked the EU and US to urge these countries to participate in joint green projects in the region.
Kosovo has so far refused to join the Mini-Schengen, arguing that the initiative should be taken under the umbrella of the Berlin Process in order to avoid Serbia’s regional domination. Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina have not joined, citing their focus on EU integration.
Initially presented by Vucic in 2017 as “old Yugoslavia, plus Albania”, the Mini-Schengen was launched in October 2019 by Rama, Zaev and Vucic. It followed Albania and North Macedonia’s failure to get the support of European leaders for opening EU accession talks.
In their 6 consecutive summits, the leaders have achieved little beyond reiterating their commitment to establish the area. They agreed for citizens of Albania and Serbia to travel with just an ID card in respective countries, while they already had in place such an agreement with North Macedonia. In addition, they agreed to cooperate during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, they will meet again on July 29 in Skopje to sign more cooperation agreements related to natural disasters and facilitation of trade, Zaev announced after Tuesday’s meeting.
The slow pace of the initiative has been determined by the distrust of the three other regional countries. Kosovo, its strongest opponent, argues that such initiatives must first get the agreement of all potential participants before being public. Its leaders claim they were never consulted but only invited to join.
Moreover, Kosovo maintains that a regional area of this kind must be kept within the Berlin Process, an initiative spearheaded by some of the most powerful EU member states aimed at strengthening collaboration in the Wester Balkans and with the EU.
The Common Regional Market (CMR) established by all 6 Western Balkan countries at the Berlin Process last year has made the Mini-Schengen redundant, as it has the same objectives, Kosovo argues. A major result of the CMR was the removal of roaming fees in the Western Balkans.