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Common Regional Market: How far did ratification of the signed agreements go? 

Photo: RCC/Armand Habazaj

Within the Berlin process, leaders of the Western Balkans launched the Common Regional Market initiative, which is structured around the four freedoms (free movement of goods, services, capital, and people) while also covering aspects of digital, investment, innovation, and industry policy.

Until today, leaders signed four mobility Agreements: Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications, Freedom of Movement with Identity Cards, Recognition of Professional Qualifications for Doctors of Medicine, Dentists and Architects, Recognition of the professional qualifications of nurses, veterinarians, pharmacists and midwives.

In November 2022, when the leaders of the six countries of the WB have signed three agreements related to the Common Regional Market, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that “it is time to overcome regional conflicts”, which have kept the region divided for a long time.

Ardian Hackaj, Research Director of Cooperation and Development Insitute and Coordinator of Tirana Connectivity Forum, assess for European Western Balkans that the signature of these four agreements and their subsequent ratification process has been one of the most visible achievements of the Berlin Process.

“It has been preceded by huge preparatory work both at technical and at the negotiation layer supported by both CEFTA and RCC. Currently, the respective Joint Commissions and Working Groups in charge of their implementation have been created and are functional”, Hackaj explains.

He adds that all countries are now at the stage of producing and adopting national by-laws necessary to apply those agreements.

Mini-Schengen, Regional Economic Area and Common Regional Market: What is what?

During the Western Balkans Leaders Summit held in Tirana last month, RCC Secretary General Majlinda Bregu announced that RCC work on the new Action Plan for the Common Regional Market (CRM). “We are currently preparing in cooperation with all regional partners, is aimed at establishing a functional CRM within the Western Balkans, as a pre-condition for closer integration with the EU Single Market”, Bregu said.

Answering the question about the fulfillment of the previous Action plan and expectations for the next one, Ardian Hackaj states that, based on CDI’s monitoring within the project Channeling South-East Europe 6 Civil Society contribution to the CRM, CRM 1 has brought regional cooperation closer to the citizens with the roaming agreements, closer to WB6 business with Greenes Lanes and also has underlined the local political will by the signature and ratification of 4 mobility agreements.

“For us, CRM 1 has shown that regional cooperation can deliver. For CRM 2 we expect those achievements to go further. Concretely the adoption of the acquis must be sped up in all countries and all the sectors and fields covered by the 4 mobility agreements. The Green Lanes must also be open and be functional in South-East 6 countries (SEE6) – EU borders; digital connectivity EU – SEE6 should progress; specific support and relevant instruments should be established to counter emigration from SEE6; and work must continue to eliminate non-tariff barriers between SEE6 countries as well as between SEE6 and EU, implementation of SEPA must be accelerated, the signature of CEFTA agreements should be unblocked.”, Hackaj says.

Ratification of agreement with ID cards is blocked by Dodik

Montenegro is still the only country that ratified all four mobility agreements signed within the Common Regional Market initiative. On the other hand, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still the only country in the region that did not ratify the agreement on Free Movement with ID cards signed in November 2022. Representatives of the authorities from the Bosnian entity Republika Srpska, led by Dodik’s SNSD are against ratification of this agreement.

BiH, besides Serbia, is the only country in the region that does not recognize the independence of Kosovo and the only country in the region that has a visa regime with Kosovo.

On 28 February in Belgrade Dodik said that “not to let any progress happen regarding that question”. “A few days ago, it came to us an operational document in which it is requested that Bosnia and Herzegovina pass a law allowing this agreement. We refused it, the Council of Minister did not pass it either”, Dodik said.

The same agreement was ratified by the government of Kosovo on 23 February last year.

“With Bosnia and Herzegovina we have difficult relations due to the veto of Republika Srpska there, but the Prime Minister of Bosnia … who is a Serb, has also signed the agreement in Berlin and this makes us optimistic that the agreement could be ratified there [in Bosnia] too and allow travel from Kosovo to Bosnia and vice versa only with IDs,” PM Albin Kurti, said after the Kosovo parliament ratified the deal.

“BiH’s refusal to ratify for the moment affects mostly BiH citizens. It also puts BiH authorities in charge of its ratification on the spot. Taking into account their explanation for such a stance, I believe that a shift in their attitude is to be expected”, Hackaj says.

According to him, after all, as the rest of Western Balkan countries are advancing in the implementation of this specific agreement, the BiH citizens and businesses will feel even more the effects of such an isolation. “To be expected is an increasing attention from BiH’s closest allies and EU supporters as well – it will become increasingly difficult for them to support BiH in that position”, Hackaj adds.

Photo: CDI

Albanian doctors in Medicine, in Dentistry and the Architects will have the freedom to access and practice their perspective professions across Balkans borders in other WB6 countries that have also fully aligned with EU acquis. In early January 2024 Albania harmonzied common and minimum standards with EU for doctors in Medicine, Dentristry and for Architects. One the National Recognition System is established and certified by the EU, those professionals can exercise in EU, and vice versa.

 

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