The leaders of Albania and Kosovo presented opposing views during the 8th summit of the Berlin Process regarding a potential common regional market between the six Western Balkan countries.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has vowed to accelerate joint attempts with leaders of Serbia and North Macedonia to advance their Mini Schengen initiative regardless of neighboring countries’ refusal to join in.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti of Kosovo insisted that the six WB countries should create a regional market that would bridge their economies with the European Union. He asked the EU to consider creating an economic area similar to what the union has with Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, who are not EU members.
In his speech during the Monday summit, Rama slammed Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) who have so far refused to join the Mini Schengen initiative launched by Rama, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
“We are not going to look for consensus at all [costs]. We are going to look for full inclusivity in the process with everyone that likes to speed up the process. With Serbia and North Macedonia, I want to make it very clear, we haven’t decided to split, we haven’t decided to divide anyone; we have just decided to push [the process] as much as we can by repeating all the time that everyone is welcome, but by stating all the time that we are not going to wait [for] anyone,” Rama stated.
Montenegro and BiH have said they prefer to focus on EU accession, and Kosovo has asked for a regional market initiative to be agreed upon by all six Western Balkan countries under the Berlin Process.
The six countries agreed to establish the Common Regional Market (CRM) last year under the umbrella of the Berlin Process. The CRM is a wider initiative but it includes the objectives of the Mini Schengen – the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital.
Rama praised the Berlin Process, and Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi for “saving the face of the European Union in the Balkans.” He called on Western Balkan countries to “have more ownership” of the process now that the European Commission has pledged €29 billion in funds and loans for the region.
Kurti reiterated his proposal for a different kind of regional market.
“I have proposed that we upgrade CEFTA to SEFTA (South East European Free Trade Agreement) based on the EFTA – EEA model which would elevate the whole region and overcome current obstacles,” he stated, while calling on the European Commission to seriously consider the proposal.
Its three initiators have recently decided to rename the Mini Schengen but its future remains unclear.