Third mini Schengen meeting puts Albania and Kosovo at odds

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 21, 2019 20:28

Third mini Schengen meeting puts Albania and Kosovo at odds

TIRANA, Dec. 21 – Rows of cars depicted heavy traffic on Friday, as government vehicles blocked the airport road on which Serbian President Aleksander Vucic was to pass to arrive in Tirana for the unofficial part of the third ‘mini Schengen’ meeting between Serbia, Albania, N. Macedonia and newcomer Bosnia and Herzegovina, causing many citizens to miss their own flights towards European capitals for the holidays. 

 

Third regional Western Balkans meeting held in Tirana 

High-level representatives of four Balkan countries, Albania, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia and Serbia met in Tirana to attend the third Western Balkans Regional Meeting to enhance economic co-operation between them.

Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama, that of Northern Macedonia Zoran Zaev, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and Serbia’s Aleksandar Vucic said they have discussed openly working together to implement previous agreements and any new economic benefits.

Rama stated after the meeting that the countries participating in the initiative are “trying to pool energy to speed up EU integration processes and standards through the freedom of movement of people, goods, capital and services.” 

He thanked the participants for the assistance their countries provided Albania after the November 26 earthquake, and then emphasized that this initiative is comprehensive, open, unconditional and not imposed on anyone, given Kosovo’s continuous refusal to participate in these meetings. 

 

Vucic arrives to Tirana amid protests

On Friday, the unofficial part of the mini Schengen began, where only Zaev and Vucic participated.

The meeting in one of the hotels of the capital was accompanied by protests by activists of the Self-Determination Movement in Albania, against the presence of the Serbian president, whom they described as “war criminal.”

The protesters held banners and photos of Serbian police massacres of Kosovo Albanians in the 1990s, recalling recent statements by the Serbian president who considered the Reçak massacre a hoax. 

A police cordon stood in front of the protesters preventing them from approaching the premises of the hotel where the meeting was being held.

Montenegro’s president also joined the three Balkan leaders, while Kosovo again refused to participate – an attitude that Prime Minister Edi Rama considered wrong, because, according to him, “Kosovo is choosing to isolate itself”.

The Tirana meeting, the third after the one in Serbia’s Novi Sad and Ohrid in N. Macedonia, initially saw the leaders visiting some of the quake-affected areas of Durres.  

Then, at 10:00 am, the ‘Leaders’ Session’ took place at the Rogner Hotel, followed by a Plenary Session with the participation of delegations.  

At 13.15am on Saturday, the activities concluded with the joint press conference, which took place at the Rogner Hotel, in Tirana.

 

Experts oppose ‘mini Schengen’ political purposes

During the conference that took place after the ‘Leaders’ session,’ Rama said that the purpose of this initiative is to work together to implement previous agreements among the countries, but also between the countries and the EU. 

In addition, he said the initiative will enable the free flow of goods and people between these countries by removing the need of individuals to use passports. 

Meanwhile, economic and regional experts again pointed out some drawbacks to this planned cooperation. 

For starters, regional politics experts told local media in Albania over the last weeks, as talk about the ‘mini Schengen’ surfaced when the leaders of the three Balkan countries met at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, in September, that there has already been a dozen initiatives like the one being discussed undertaken in the Balkans. 

For example, Albania, Serbia and Northern Macedonia are part of the CEFTA (Central European Free Trade Agreement) agreement, which also includes Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and Moldova. CEFTA aims precisely at facilitating the movement of goods and free trade between these countries until they join the EU.

According to Albanian Institute for International Studies experts, the core of the problem in the Balkans, beyond the underdeveloped economic cooperation among neighboring states, is the frozen conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, which still stands partially unrecognized in the middle of the ‘mini Schengen’s’ geographical extension, making it questionable how beneficial these kinds of economic cooperation plans are. 

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 21, 2019 20:28