Editorial: Little Schengen’ Project : A useless idea at the worst of times

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 15, 2019 09:43

Editorial: Little Schengen’ Project : A useless idea at the worst of times

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  • The region already has numerous platforms and mechanisms, abundant agreements and institutions that can secure intense and qualitative cooperation, exchange, trade, mutual projects and so on. The only thing needed of them to succeed is consistency and respect for commitments that have been already taken.

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TIRANA TIMES EDITORIAL

The second meeting pertaining to the establishment of the so called ‘Western Balkans Schengen’ or as commonly referred mini-Schengen was convened last week in Ohrid with this time a slightly larger participation. Prime Ministers of North Macedonia and Albania, Zaev and Rama and President of Serbia Vucic were joined this time around by Montenegrin Minister of Economy, Dragica Sekulic and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Denis Zvizdić.

It was very interesting to analyze the short comments of the Montenegrin Minister after this meeting. She said that for Montenegro this would be a waste of energy with no concrete additional benefits since her fellow citizens already travel in this region just using ID cards and in the context of CEFTA her country has already lifted trade and economic barriers.

The brief but extremely clear and on point reaction of Minister Sekulic wrap up indeed most of what is wrong with the mini-Schengen intuitive in general and not just for her country. The initiative screams “useless’ from every detail. Whatever is presented as future result has been achieved already, is in the plans to be achieved by other existing serious and legitimate platforms (such as Regional Cooperation Council , Regional Youth Cooperation Office, etc) or simply is impossible. Additionally there is a comprehensive, strategic and important European umbrella that is supposed to guide further integration in the region, the Berlin process, to which all the countries are bound.  

The intuitive is still unclear for most and not just in terms of membership. Fundamentally its proponents have failed to clarify whether this model is an exact replica of the original Schengen agreement between European countries or just borrows the core idea of erasing borders and applies it to the region.

The erasing of borders according to this advanced European model would require what Europe itself achieved only decades (Schengen was established as late as the mid-80s) of peace, collaboration and institutionalized collective decision-making.  None of this preconditions are in place in the region. The exclusion of Kosovo (self-inflicted or not) from this platform brings down its entire logic. How can borders be erased between countries that don’t recognize each other? How come that such lofty goals can be envisaged as realistic in a region where there is still frozen conflict and where reconciliation has still a long way to go? One needs to see the latest speech of Serbian president in Paris saying that Kosovo shouldn’t be part of UNESCO to be clear about it.

No wonder this initiative and especially the way Albania is going about it is wrecking the relations between Albania and Kosovo. The entire political class and not only in Kosovo is against it and they have not shied away from strong and vocal disapproval. Exchange of declarations on two sides of the Albanian speaking border has reached a new apex of hostility and tension. Indeed it is at least ironic that Albania looks at this initiative so enthusiastically when throughout the years it could neither ease up nor erase the border with Kosovo, a much less ambitious plan.

Furthermore the paternalistic approach towards Kosovo shown throughout the meetings and press conferences associated with this new idea is entirely unwarranted and not welcomed.

Moreover this comes at what can be truthfully called the worst of times. The larger European context has turned sour after October 18. With the blunt refusal to grant the opening of accession negotiations to Albania and North Macedonia, the attention has been on whether these countries would seek other options. The ‘mini-Schengen’ can be interpreted as a potential alternative and reactionary move from the region. Then skeptics of enlargement are free to say “why not? You can integrate first between yourselves and then we will see.” This approach is certainly assisted by Rama’s frequent proclamations that Europe seems to have no time for the region and Vucic’s mantra that countries are on their own and should take care of themselves.

This approach could not be any more wrong. The time is for intensifying efforts and maximizing contacts to put back the issue of negotiations on the table sooner than later. Every lost day counts. Whereas the Serbian president can say that since his country has opened most of negotiations chapters anyways, his Albanian counterpart is in no similar position whatsoever.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the priority of the United States in our region, with now two special envoys, is to rekindle the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. The current tensions between Tirana and Prishtina certainly do not help the process.

Finally for Albania itself the timing is far from perfect. Such protagonist behavior at the regional arena at a time when the internal political crisis is unresolved and deteriorating, the new justice institutions are still on the horizon and continue to be contested and finally the social discontent is raging can be seen only as a cheap attempt at deflection

The region already has numerous platforms and mechanisms, abundant agreements and institutions that can secure intense and qualitative cooperation, exchange, trade, mutual projects and so on. The only thing needed of them to succeed is consistency and respect for commitments that have been already taken.

Anything else it futile and ill-timed. 

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 15, 2019 09:43