A week before the EU veto on the talks on the membership negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, the head of diplomacy of Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro met to talk about a regional initiative that was nicknamed “mini Schengen”.
The Western Balkan countries want to create their own version of the European Union’s border-free Schengen area with a concept based on the idea of freedom of movement of goods, services, people and capital across the region. The aims of this new trade cooperation are to encourage inclusivity across the region and to facilitate the collaboration between the Western Balkan countries and make it more intensive. They took this decision because they are part of the excluded countries of the EU Schengen Area (with Switzerland and Lichtenstein) and they believe that this treaty can help their EU membership process, the grow of their international influence and stimulate the regional economy. Plus, this Mini-Schengen project can help the countries to overcome the war past of the Balkan peninsula.
The founder countries agree on several measures:
The citizens of the acceding countries could travel with only their Identity Cards, they wouldn’t need passport;
Common work permits will be issued and diplomas and qualifications from other participating countries will be recognized;
The border controls will be faster and easier and the documentation to be submitted will be reduced;
Cross-border collaboration in the fight against organized crime and terrorism will be strengthened.
From an economical point of view, this agreement can be very helpful for the economic development of the Balkan area: Northern Macedonia and Serbia will no longer have to pay customs duties on goods from the Mediterranean Sea and, in the meanwhile, Albania and Montenegro can count on the help of more solid economies and therefore be facilitated in their economic development. This can also help the area to find foreign investors in an easier way when the local market is stabilized, to allow the labor market to restart and push domestic demand.
The Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić said that this trade initiative is “an opportunity for countries to save more than 220 million euros by setting up joint checkpoints for customs and administrative services”1.
But this agreement has several opponents:
The European Union would be the actor with the main loss, because a free trade system external to Schengen would strengthen the Balkan economies that would be able to boost their production chain with lower costs than those of the EU, thus bringing to an investment spill from the European Union itself. This agreement, and Brussels’ hostility to this project, could allow the Russian Federation to start exercising not only economic influence in the Balkan region, considering also the fact that Moscow has never hidden its expansionist aims in the area.
Also the Kosovar Prime Minister, Mr. Albin Kurti, opposes to the “Mini-Schengen” project supporting the idea that this is a Serbian way to create a “forth Yugoslavia” and he says that it could be a dangerous idea that can allow the Republic of Serbia to exercise hegemony in the area.
To Mr. Kurti the Berlin Process, a diplomatic initiative linked to the enlargement of the EU in the Western Balkan area launched in 2014, is the only possible type of cooperation for the Balkan countries. But he doesn’t rule out possible participation in Balkan “Mini-Schengen” meetings. The dispute with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina over the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state and not as an autonomous region of Serbia also represents a further obstacle to Kosovo’s entry into the “Mini-Shengen”.
Kosovo has been criticized by the Albanian Prime Minister, Mr. Edi Rama, for its decision on Mini-Schengen project, declaring that the fact that Serbia or Bosnia still does not recognize Kosovo has not in the past meant that Pristina did not take part in other regional initiatives, nor has it prevented the signing of agreements with European representatives.
This project has several positive sides such as the reduction of the borders between the acceding countries, the reduction of the distances between them and an economic growth due to the reduction of the costs in the commercial exchanges; but it will also result in an increase in the distance between the countries of the “Mini-Schengen” area and both the European Union and the countries of the Balkan region excluded from the “Mini-Schengen” area.
1“Mini Schengen”: A Balkan breakthrough or political stunt? – Akri Cipa, https://balkaninsight.com/2019/12/03/mini-schengen-a-balkan-breakthrough-or-political-stunt/