Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia, three Western Balkan countries hoping to join the European Union, have signed a regional economic cooperation agreement, being described as a “mini-Schengen Agreement.”
Last week, Northern Albanian and Macedonian Prime Ministers Edi Rama and Zoran Zaev, together with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, met in Novi Sad, northern Serbia, and signed a declaration of intent aimed at establishing the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital between the three countries.
The common market of the three countries is expected to increase the competitiveness of the entire region, which has 12 million inhabitants.
According to the agreement, the citizens of the three countries won’t need to show passports when crossing their borders but only an ID card and trucks will not have to wait for hours at the border crossings. Zoran Zaev said that the ultimate goal of the regional initiative is the mutual recognition of all documents, including the documents of food agencies, college degrees and other state documents.
The free and fast movement of goods will be encouraged by the introduction of a 24-hour working time for all inspection services with a focus on phytosanitary and veterinary inspection.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that, by simplifying border inspections, the three countries will save close to 129 million euro.
Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina have so far declined to join the initiative, but said they may consider doing so in the future.
Kosovo did not send a representative to the meeting.
“Kosovo cannot be part of a summit where states participate that do not yet recognize the reality of an independent Kosovo. We are committed to overcoming current obstacles through dialogue and mutual recognition. Only when such a thing happens will we become part of such regional initiatives as equal states” Kosovar President Hashim Thaci said in a message on Facebook.
Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian-majority proclaimed independence in 2008, but Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina do not recognise it.
The Ohrid summit came several weeks after the European Union on October 15 failed to give the go-ahead for the start of membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, marking another blow to the Balkan nations’ hopes of a speedy accession process.
The next meeting of the signatory countries will be held in Durres on December 21st, with EU foreign policy representative Joseph Borrell attending the summit.