From: Exit News
Regional Forum Highlights Western Balkan Divide Over Mini Schengen

The leaders of Albania and Kosovo have reiterated their opposite views regarding the Mini Schengen initiative launched by Albania, Serbia, and North Macedonia to facilitate the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital in the Western Balkans (WB).

Prime Minister Edi Rama defended the initiative during his speech on Friday at the Prespa Forum in North Macedonia, where regional leaders and European and American diplomats are discussing ways to strengthen the EU-US collaboration for the region’s benefit.

Rama stressed that WB countries should not wait until they have joined the EU before making life easier for their citizens by removing the barriers between them. He urged other leaders to join the Mini Schengen not as an alternative to the EU but as an attempt to provide a better life for their citizens by exploiting the region’s existing potential.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti of Kosovo, on the other hand, reiterated Kosovo’s strong opposition to the initiative and urged the countries in the region to focus on EU integration instead. He stated that the Mini Schengen provides no vision for the region.

The two leaders have been at odds with each other since Rama announced the initiative with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in October 2019. In Kosovo, they objected to Rama’s decision not to consult with them and maintained that such initiatives should be all-inclusive and under the umbrella of the Berlin Process.

Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina have also been reluctant to join the Mini Schengen, citing their focus on EU integration.

Under the Berlin Process, the six WB countries launched the Common Regional Market last year, a broader project that includes all Mini Schengen objectives. Kurti insists that this should be the focus of regional cooperation, claiming that the Mini Schengen does not exist. 

However, Rama and Vučić are still pushing their initiative ahead. Last week they held their 7th summit on the Mini Schengen together with Zaev, renewed their commitment, and called on the other 3 regional countries to join. Rama had announced earlier that their initiative will be “handed over” to the European Commission, while Vučić revealed that the three initiators will change its name in the 8th summit in late July.

While the future of the Mini Schengen remains unclear, Rama and Vučić agreed on the need for the EU to grant visa liberalization for Kosovo, and for EU accession talks to start with Albania and North Macedonia. They also stressed that the region should not let the frustration built up from the slow pace of the EU accession process divert them into the hands of third actors, implying Russia and China.