From: Bledar Qalliu
Western Balkans Leaders Agree to Establish Common Regional Market

The leaders of the six Western Balkan countries have agreed to establish a common regional market during the Berlin Process Sofia Summit on Tuesday.

The leaders of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia met online with the EU leaders in a summit organized by Bulgaria and North Macedonia, to discuss the region’s EU integration.

The EU Economic and Investment Plan was high on the agenda. It sets out an investment package of up to €9 billion aimed to accelerate the long-term economic recovery of the region, building on green and digital transitions.

Related to this plan was the unanimous agreement of WB6 leaders to establish a Common Regional Market (CRM). This is hoped to prepare the region toward the EU single Market by pushing these countries to integrate among themselves.

The plan to establish and strengthen the CRM in the next four years covers four areas:

  • Regional trade area: free movement of goods, services, capital and people.
  • Regional investment area, to align investment policies with the EU standards and promote the region to foreign investors;
  • Regional digital area, to integrate the WB6 into the pan-European digital market;
  • Regional industrial and innovation area, to transform the industrial sectors.

The regional trade area appears to fully cover the stated objectives of the so-called “mini-Schengen” initiative launched by the leaders of Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia.

The latter have stated the free movement of people, goods, services and capital as objectives of their initiative. They signed an agreement on Monday to enable the free movement of their citizens with IDs only. It marked the first concrete step since the initiative was launched one year ago and after several summits between the three leaders. Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina have not joined the initiative, while Kosovo has so far refused.

The Common Regional Market comes as the result of several years’ work since the launch of the Berlin Process in 2014. In 2017, the WB6 leaders endorsed an action plan on the Regional Economic Area (REA), which also aims at the same objectives as the mini-Schengen, and more. It is supported by the European Union, and it’s virtually the main focus of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC).

The REA aims to “enable unobstructed flow of goods, services, capital and highly skilled labour; making the region more attractive for investment and trade; and accelerating convergence with the EU.”

Moreover, both REA and CRM built upon the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), of which all the six WB countries are part.

With today’s endorsement of the action plan for the Common Regional Market under the Berlin Process roof, it remains unclear what a “mini Schengen” initiative could add to the CEFTA, REA and CRM, and what sorts of extra benefits it could bring.