Only about a month after the idea for the establishment of a Schengen-alike borderless zone in the Western Balkan was presented by Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia, two out of six WB countries have opted out of it.
Upon the meeting held in Ohrid on November 9, between the President of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev, the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia Herzegovina, the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, and the Montenegrin Minister of Economy Dragica Sekulic, the latter has rejected the idea calling it “a waste of energy.”
According to Minister Sekulic, Montenegro is already a member of the Central European Free Trade Agreement, which guarantees the free movement of goods, and its citizens can travel to all neighboring countries with only an ID, except to Croatia.
In an interview for the Montenegrin public television, Sekulic said that the initiators of the “Mini-Schengen” are the ones who have placed different trade barriers on each other previously, and now want to promise again to change that.
“I understand the initiators. These are places that, because of the different trade barriers that have been placed on each other, may need a new initiative to promise again that they will do what we have long done,” Sekulic said, rejecting the idea.
The first meeting on the Mini-Schengen was held on October 11, the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad between the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Prime Ministers of Albania and North Macedonia, Edi Rama, and Zoran Zaev. The three leaders had signed an agreement that would among others enable the citizens of the three countries to cross each other’s borders with only an ID card by 2021.
Shortly after the meeting, 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.
However, Kosovo refused to join a second meeting, with its leaders calling the mini-Schengen idea “a new Yugoslavia” and “meaningless”.
Kosovo’s President, Hashim Thaçi listed several arguments to support his stance on the initiative. Amongst others, he argued that Kosovo does not want in any circumstances “to replace the Euro-Atlantic perspective with any regional initiative”.
He also said that Kosovo cannot be part of a summit where some of the participating states do not recognize its sovereignty, referring to Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina.
“Kosovo was deliberately overlooked by Serbia at the First Summit of this new regional initiative,” he wrote while adding that Kosovo is still committed to good neighborliness and removing obstacles to the freedom of people and goods.
Whereas, the leader of the second biggest party in Kosovo, Isa Mustafa, called the mini-Schengen “a new Yugoslavia.”
“Such projects seem attractive at first glance, but in essence lead to a new Yugoslavia, with Albania, without Croatia, and without Slovenia,” he said, adding that only Serbia and a few other countries in the region would benefit from such agreements.