The leaders of Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia have invited Kosovo to join their “mini-Schengen” initiative, and expressed their hope that Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina will also join. The initiative aims at establishing the free movement of goods, capital, services, and labour in South-East Europe.
Albanian and Macedonian Prime Ministers Edi Rama and Zoran Zaev, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic held a meeting online on Friday to resume their initiative, about one year after their last meeting in December 2019. This is the fourth summit between them on the issue.
In their joint statement, the three leaders “formally invited Kosovo to join the initiative for deeper regional cooperation,” citing the pledges for economic normalization signed in the White House by Vucic and Kososo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti.
They highlighted that the mini-Schengen initiative is in line with the Berlin Process, launched by Chancellor Angela Merkel to help Western Balkan countries prepare together for EU accession, and that all six countries in the region should participate.
The leaders agreed to set up a permanent working group to implement the deals under this initiative, starting with identifying joint infrastructure projects, and working to align responses to the pandemic.
The mini-Schengen initiative has been controversial in Albania and Kosovo. Its opponents claim that the two countries, Kosovo in particular, would be flooded by Serbian goods. In Kosovo, they claim that without Serbia’s recognition, the country would de facto turn into a province of Serbia.
Rama severed his relations with former Kosovo prime ministers Ramush Haradinaj and Albin Kurti over their opposition to Kosovo’s participation. Rama sued Haradinaj for libel after harsh words exchanged over Albanian prime minister’s alleged patronizing attitude towards Kosovo. Rama’s relations with Kurti during the latter’s short time never improved after their disagreement on the mini-Schengen following their first meeting as prime ministers in Tirana.
However, Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti has pledged to join the initiative.
Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina have not shown enthusiasm about the initiative, and it’s not clear whether they will join it.