Scholz’s revival of the “common regional market” calls into question “the opening of the Balkans” – Exit
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced his intention to relaunch the Berlin process and to push forward in particular the regional common market, a solid initiative agreed by all Western Balkan countries, alongside which Serbia, Albania and Macedonia from the North launched their Open Balkan initiative.
“Regional cooperation has great potential. Germany has been committed for several years within the framework of the Berlin process in this direction. Together with partners, I would like to revive this with an invitation to Berlin in the second half. The most important current project of the Western Balkan countries within the framework of the Berlin process in the establishment of a common regional market. I hope that we will quickly finalize four important agreements, including the free movement of people and the recognition of professional diplomas,” Chancellor Scholz said on Wednesday during a press conference with Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti, according to the Albanian translation. .
Scholz’s promise to advance the Regional Common Market (RCM) with renewed energies casts serious doubts on the future of the Open Balkan initiative.
The (CRM) was created in November 2020 as part of the Berlin Process – a platform under the aegis of the European Union which aims to strengthen cooperation between the six Western Balkan countries and foster their integration into the European Union.
A sturdy action plan attached to the CRM plans projects to improve the economy, infrastructure, environment, security of the region, with potential investments of up to 29 million euros.
Under the CRM, the six countries scrapped roaming tariffs between them in July 2021, while other agreements are expected to be signed at the next summit, covering travel mobility with ID cards, mobility travel for citizens of third countries and the recognition of academic and professional diplomas. qualifications.
Alongside the CRM, the leaders of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia launched the Open Balkan initiative. It specifically focuses on the free movement of people, goods, services and capital in the region, which is also part of one of the four main pillars of the CRM.
The other three countries in the region – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro – have so far refused to join the Open Balkan, despite repeated pleas from the initiators. They argue that an initiative like the CRM under the Berlin process is inclusive and more beneficial for the region and each country.
That’s exactly what Kurti pointed out during today’s press conference with Scholz in Berlin.
“We fully support the Berlin Process, we welcome the Chancellor’s dedication to relaunch the process with new momentum. We also support the Regional Common Market, which is part of the Berlin process and according to EU rules: it is global, it has the four freedoms. We don’t support other parallel initiatives,” Kurti said, clearly slamming Open Balkan.
He further noted that for Kosovo, “regional cooperation is not a substitute for integration into the European Union; it’s more of an accelerator”, a statement that seems to contradict an earlier call by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama for the EU to explicitly support its initiative and push the countries that refuse to join the Open Balkan given the lack of EU enlargement.
Scholz also noted during the Q&A session with reporters that the six countries are “voluntarily participating” in the Berlin process and that their leaders are happy with his plan to convene a summit this year. “There will be good reasons for cooperation to work [in the Berlin Process] and to obtain excellent results. This cannot be announced ex-cathedra but must be achieved in unity,” said the Chancellor.
The three leaders of Open Balkan – Rama, Vucic and Zaev – have been criticized for launching their initiative without consulting the rest of the countries in the region.
Asked about his reasons for supporting the Berlin Process and rejecting the Open Balkan, Kurti noted that the latter could pave the way for Russian influence in the Western Balkans.
“Europe is our continent and the EU is our destiny. We accept, welcome and consider as beneficial all regional initiatives when the EU is there as values and an active participant. All the other parallel initiatives which try to open the Balkans to the powers of the East and the North-East, we do not welcome them and consider them useless. Kosovo and the Balkans are open to the EU, NATO and Germany, and that’s more than enough.
The plan for the Balkan Open was announced in 2019. Its realization so far has been for Albanians and Serbs to travel to the respective countries using only an ID.
Its leaders have repeatedly promised numerous agreements to be signed in the near future, but skepticism in regional and European capitals about the initiative has translated into summit after summit where Rama and Vucic call on the three countries refusing to join.
No leader from any European capital has ever mentioned the Open Balkan by name, even if he hasn’t outright opposed it.
Rama and Vucic have vowed to continue their initiative regardless of the refusal of Kosovo, Bosnia and Montenegro to join.