Open Balkans is the new name of the Mini-Schengen initiative

Photo: AP Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic, left, and Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama, right, shake hands next to North Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, center, after signing memorandums and agreements of regional cooperation during the economic forum for regional cooperation in Skopje, North Macedonia, 29 July 2021.

Open Balkans will be the new name of the regional initiative which had been informally called Mini-Schengen, MIA reported. This was announced at today's Economic Forum on Regional Cooperation in Skopje, attended by Prime Minister of the Republic of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev, Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania Edi Rama and President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić.

It is their ninth meeting since they launched the initiative in 2019. Chairpersons of the region's Chambers of Commerce and representatives of more than 300 companies also attended the forum.

As the three Western Balkan leaders pointed out, Open Balkans marks the beginning of a new era of cooperation in the region, which will show that countries in this part of Europe are capable of making their own decisions.

During the forum, the three leaders signed an Agreement on Cooperation in Disaster Protection and Rescue, and a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate the import, export and movement of goods in the Western Balkans.

The initiative aims to implement the four freedoms of the European Union - free movement of goods, capital, services, and people - in the Western Balkans, while countries of the region prepare to enter the bloc.

In previous meetings, the three leaders vowed to advance the initiative and called on the remaining three Western Balkans countries to join.

“This time we have an action plan,” Zaev stressed during his opening speech.

Bosnia, Kosovo and Montenegro have again refused to participate in these summits. Since its inception by Vučić, Rama and Zaev, they have asked instead for a common regional market to be launched under the umbrella of the Berlin Process - a shared platform between the EU and the Western Balkans.

Last year, the Common Regional Market was established accordingly under the Berlin Process. One year later, the Western Balkans countries abolished roaming tariffs in the region after signing an agreement under the CRM.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has also proposed for all regional countries to enter into a free trade agreement between them and the EU - mirroring the European Free Trade Association between the EU and four non-EU countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

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