From: Exit Staff
The Western Balkans Divided in Half Over ‘Mini Schengen’

In their 9th meeting on the “Mini Schengen,” the leaders of Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia were again boycotted by their counterparts from Bosnia, Kosovo and Montenegro, amidst the initiators’ efforts to boost the stagnating initiative for a free economic area in the region.

On Thursday, Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev hosted Albania’s prime minister Edi Rama and Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić in the “Economic Forum for Regional Cooperation,” their 9th meeting since they launched the so-called Mini Schengen initiative in 2019.

The initiative aims to implement the 4 freedoms – free movement of goods, capital, services, and people – of the European Union in the Western Balkans while the latter prepares to enter the block.

In previous meetings, the three leaders vowed to advance the initiative and called on the remaining 3 countries in the region to join. Today, however, they are expected to sign a number of agreements and rebrand the initiative with a new name. 

“This time we have an action plan,” Zaev stressed during his opening speech.

Bosnia, Kosovo and Montenegro have again refused to participate in these summits. Since its inception by Vučić, Rama, and Zaev, they have asked instead for a common regional market to be launched under the umbrella of the Berlin Process – a shared platform between the EU and the Western Balkans.

Last year, the Common Regional Market was established accordingly under the Berlin Process. One year later, the Western Balkans countries abolished roaming tariffs in the region after an agreement signed under the CRM.  

Kosovo’s prime minister Albin Kurti has also proposed for all regional countries to enter into a free trade agreement between them and the EU – mirroring the European Free Trade Association between the EU and four non-EU member states: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

The question of whether to proceed with a Mini Schengen or a Common Regional Market has become ever more divisive over time, with Rama in particular repeatedly slamming the 3 remaining countries for refusing to join. 

On Thursday, he vowed firmly to advance the initiative despite their refusal: “We will do it now!” Rama said he could understand but nevertheless not justify Kosovo’s refusal, but was unable to grasp why Montenegro and Bosnia did not join.

Pointing to the ‘90s wars between Serbia and Kosovo, and Serbia and Bosnia, Rama said it should all be left behind as all people suffered during that period.  

“We have lived long enough feeling pleasure over other peoples’ suffering. We haven’t really seen what we would gain from cooperation, but we have seen how others suffer from conflict. This is a too long and painful history not to be left behind,” he said.

Serbia’s Aleksandar Vučić also stressed the need to establish trust between the regional countries through the Mini Schengen.

“We must leave the past behind and look toward the future,” he stated.

He announced that the three leaders plan to abolish borders in the region before 2023.

Macedonian leader Zoran Zaev said they will sign an agreement and two cooperation memorandums today.

Chambers of commerce from Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia are also participating in today’s economic forum.