Leaders agree on further steps towards “mini-Schengen” in Ohrid

Meeting of the WB leaders in Ohrid 2019; Photo: Tanjug / Presidency of Serbia

OHRID – The second meeting between the leaders of the Western Balkans resulted in a set of proposals with the goal of achieving “four freedoms”, and the first concrete steps, including the freedom to travel without a passport, are announced for the period before the meeting in Albania in December.

Freedom of movement of goods, services, people and capital was discussed at the meeting between Prime Ministers of Albania and North Macedonia Edi Rama and Zoran Zaev, President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić, as well as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Denis Zvizdić and Minister of Economy of Montenegro Dragica Sekulić.

Rama, Zaev and Vučić previously met in Novi Sad, Serbia, in October, where they announced that the “mini-Schengen” initiative is open to other countries of the Western Balkans.

However, President of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi wrote on Facebook that the initiative is meaningless as long as Serbia and BiH do not recognize Kosovo. He justified his decision not to participate by saying that Kosovo does not want to exchange its Euro-Atlantic perspective for a regional one, Tanjug reported.

According to this news agency, the leaders achieved a deal on a set of measures that will contribute to growth and development of the countries of the region. An action plan for their implementation is expected to be adopted.

The most prominent measures include a system which would allow travelling between the countries using only a personal ID, as well as working permits for the possibility to work in Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia without additional procedures.

According to “mini-Schengen” proposal, foreigners coming to Belgrade, Skopje or Tirana could travel to other partner countries without a need for additional visas.

As for the free movement of goods, the leaders proposed the adoption of a common package of documentation needed for the transport of goods, with an emphasis on “as few peaces of paper as possible”, Tanjug reports. Changes to current legal solutions to for the movement of capital and tax system are also envisaged.

Mutual recognition of professional qualifications, incentives for the exchange of students, joint research and development projects, border cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism and help in emergency situation make up the rest of proposals.

“This initiative opens up great opportunities for young people to connect with the image of the European model for implementing EU standards in order to achieve economic progress in the Western Balkans and overall democratic transformation,” the Government of North Macedonia announced.

The initiative was recently supported by the United States Special Representative for the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer, and President of Serbia announced that he will discuss the topic with the president of France Emmanuel Macron in a meeting next week.