SKOPJE – The initiative for regional cooperation “Mini Schengen”, which includes Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia, has a new name from today – “Open Balkan”. This was announced at the meeting of political leaders and businessmen of the three countries in the capital of North Macedonia.
It was announced that border controls between the three countries will be abolished by 2023. In addition, the leaders signed three documents: Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation on Facilitating Import, Export and Movement of Goods in the Western Balkans, the Memorandum on Free Access to the Labor Market and the Agreement on Cooperation in Disaster Protection, N1 reports.
Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, stated that a new era of cooperation in the region of the Western Balkans begins today.
“I want to assure you, and I think it is obvious, that our political will, that of President Vučić, Prime Minister Rama and mine, is an expression of our maximum commitment to provide all conditions that depend on the governments of our three countries for effective regional cooperation,” he said, FoNet reports.
He assessed that the connectivity is necessary for the development of economies, the development of the region and for a better life for every citizen in the Western Balkans.
As he pointed out, the massive response of businessmen to the invitation to participate in the Economic Forum for Regional Cooperation, which was also held in Skopje, is a strong message that the Balkan region is beginning to create the highest level of understanding that economic connection is vital.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said the region cannot continue to move forward if it remains a prisoner of the past.
“We should not turn our backs on each other, as we have done for the past 500 years,” Rama said.
According to him, this is not an exclusive initiative of Albania, Serbia and Northern Macedonia.
“Every country that wants to join should do it on its own, and not create a caricature of the Balkans, and send it to Brussels. We do not have the luxury of wasting time, because we have lost decades and centuries,” said Edi Rama.
He added that unresolved issues in the region could not be resolved more easily if the potential for association was denied.
“I believe that all countries should be part of this process, because it is a benefit for them and their citizens, and every day of looking back is a day lost,” the Albanian Prime Minister emphasized.
President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, also stated that the “Open Balkan” initiative is open to all other countries in the region that want it and that anyone who wants to join is welcome, but no reason for someone to pray, FoNet reports.
“We are open to everyone, but I do not understand why we would ask anyone. We are doing our job, it is our job to show responsibility towards the citizens and raise the economies of the three countries. Our three countries will attract more than 80 percent of investments in the Western Balkans. Political issues are also easier to resolve when you attract investors “, said Vučić at the joint final press conference.
As he pointed out, every time this initiative is mentioned, someone asks where Pristina, Sarajevo and Podgorica are, but the message is that everyone chooses their path.
“If we had made such an initiative with Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, they would have accused us of making a Greater Serbia”, Vučić said.
Vučić asked how, on the other hand, the authorities of other countries in the region would explain to their citizens why they have to wait at the borders of Serbia, Northern Macedonia and Alnabia, and their citizens “zero minutes”.
“This initiative is changing everything in the region. We will have to work a lot and I believe that we will succeed “, concluded Vučić
Pisonero: We support the leaders’ commitment to regional cooperation
European Commission Spokeswoman Ana Pisonero told Danas that the EU supports the leaders’ commitment to regional co-operation, which is an essential element of the European perspective of the Western Balkans and an integral part of the Stabilization and Association Process.
“We understand the desire to move forward, at the same time, one process involving the entire Western Balkans is essential. In that context, it is important that the entire region progresses towards the establishment of the Common Regional Market, which is a political commitment made by the six leaders of the region at the summit in Sofia last autumn”, Pisonero said in a written statement for Danas.
She added that the EU brings important investment opportunities to the Western Balkans region, through the Economic and Investment Plan.
“It is now up to the region to use them properly, by employing all its economic potential and establishing a Common Regional Market, based on EU rules”, the EC Spokeswoman concluded.