Three Western Balkan countries, Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia have agreed on the establishment of a free movement zone of people, goods, services, and capital, which they have called “Balkan’s mini-Schengen”.
On October 11, the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic hosted the Prime Ministers of Albania and North Macedonia, Edi Rama and Zoran Zaev, in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad. During the meeting, the highest officials of the three countries signed an agreement which would among others enable the citizens of the three countries to cross each other’s borders with only an ID card. The “mini Schengen” may become operational by 2021.
The initiative is open to the three other Western Balkan countries, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Kosovo.
However, many see the inclusion of Kosovo in the agreement as a problem. The latter declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after a war that left 13,500 people killed or missing, and caused the displacement of between 1.2 million to 1.45 million Kosovo Albanians. Serbia still hasn’t recognized the country, claiming it does not intend to do so anytime soon.
Currently, due to the “Agreement on Free Movement” reached between Kosovo and Serbia in 2011, Kosovo citizens can travel to Serbia with an ID issued by Kosovo institutions. However, they are issued with a visa-like A4 printed document, which limits the period of their stay in Serbia for a specific amount of time.
The two other countries in the agreement have both recognized the independence of Kosovo, to which Kosovo citizens can travel visa-free with their biometric ID or passport.
“The fact that we have differences relative to Kosovo, and that these two countries have recognized its independence, that has nothing to do with the flow of goods, people, services and capital,” Vučić said when about the position of Kosovo regarding the agreement.
He also said that Serbia wants to develop good relations and abolish administrative barriers in the region insisting that differences in Kosovo had nothing to do with free trade and movement.
In the meeting held in Novi Sad, the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said that he would exit the agreement if there were a veto for Kosovo, highlighting that the declaration signed on the same day specifically mentions “the Western Balkans Six throughout the text” meaning all the three other countries could join.
“Our aim is to be a part of the bigger European family, but while they are having their problems, we cannot be held hostage by the past or some disagreements… We are not the EU’s priority. We must make a priority, and not just between our three but between all six countries,” Rama said, further commenting on the Kosovo accession issue.
The agreement was signed just a few days before the EU members voted against opening the talks on EU accession for Albania and North Macedonia.
The next meeting on the establishment of Western Balkan’s Mini-Schengen has been announced to take place on November 10, in Ohrid, North Macedonia, in which representatives of Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina will also be present.