Kosovo declines invitation to third 'mini-Schengen' meeting in Durres

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 20, 2019 11:59

Kosovo declines invitation to third 'mini-Schengen' meeting in Durres

Story Highlights

  • Kosovo politicians have questioned the benefits of such an initiative under current circumstances. The initiative also created frictions between the Albanian government and leaders in Kosovo, who claimed Rama did not consult with Kosovo in advance.

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TIRANA, Dec. 19 - Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi has refused to participate in the third meeting of the so-called "mini Schengen initiative" led by leaders of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia Aleksander Vucic, Edi Rama and Zoran Zaev which will take place in Albania's Durres on Friday and Saturday. 

Thaçi wrote on Facebook on Thursday that he had to refuse Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama's invitation for the same reasons he had done so twice before.

The "mini Schengen initiative" was launched in October, following Albania and North Macedonia's failure to start EU accession talks.

Kosovo politicians have questioned the benefits of such an initiative under current circumstances. The initiative also created frictions between the Albanian government and leaders in Kosovo, who claimed Rama did not consult with Kosovo in advance. 

In their second meeting in November, Rama, Vučić and Zaev signed a nine-point joint statement in Ohrid, North Macedonia, which explained that achieving the objectives of this initiative – freer flow of goods, people, services and capital – will be a step toward the European Union integration of the region. 

Thaçi stated on Wednesday that Kosovo could not participate in a regional initiative started by Serbia, whilst the latter is actively engaged in undermining his country's statehood, which it is still to recognize.

"Serbia has committed genocide against the citizens of the Republic of Kosovo and today not only it denies the crimes committed, but continues to deny the existence of our state."

Earlier this month, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic sparked outrage in Kosovo when he described the 1999 Reçak massacre as "fabricated".

The Reçak massacre took place in the homonymous village of Kosovo in 1999, when Serbian forces killed 45 ethnic Albanian civilians. 

The massacre was one of the factors that led to the 1999 NATO bombing campaign which ended the bloody two-year war between Kosovo and Serbia.

Thaçi added that such regional initiatives are "meaningless" as long as Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina refuse to recognize Kosovo's independence.

"There can't be progress in regional cooperation as long as there won't be mutual recognition between these countries," Thaçi argued.

The third meeting will take place this weekend, December 21, in Albania, while the two previous ones took place in Serbia and North Macedonia.

The meeting in Albania was scheduled for early December, but was postponed following the devastating earthquakes that hit the country.

According to Radio Tirana International, Albanian Prime Minister will host leaders on Friday at an informal meeting in the capital. A special charity event, "You will never be alone," dedicated to the post-earthquake reconstruction process, is also planned for Friday.

The leaders will visit some of the sites damaged in the Durrës earthquake on Saturday, after which their session will begin. 


Tirana protests Serbian President's visit 

On Thursday, a day before Vucic's arrival in Tirana, protesters gathered at the hotel where the president will be supposedly staying on Friday.

At the hotel's entrance, banners reading 'Here comes a war criminal, disguised as a benefactor.'

According to Rama's announcement, EU Foreign Minister Joseph Borrell should also attend the meeting.

"This initiative is open and inclusive and is nothing new, it is just a new joint commitment and aim to implement what has been repeatedly agreed and then set aside," Rama stressed.


Tirana and Pristina at odds as experts point out 'mini Schengen' drawbacks 

Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina were invited since the second 'mini Schegen' meeting in Ohrid, N. Macedonia and, whereas official Podgorica and Sarajevo initially said they would think it through, Kosovo downright refused.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci wrote last time that he is refusing Kosovo's participation in the 'mini Schengen' for several reasons.

"First, Kosovo was deliberately bypassed by Serbia at the First Summit of this new regional initiative. Second, Kosovo's only vision remains EU and NATO membership. Therefore, we do not want in any circumstances to replace our Euro-Atlantic perspective with any regional initiative. And thirdly, this regional initiative is meaningless as long as Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina do not recognize Kosovo's independence," Thaci wrote. 

He wrote on Facebook that Kosovo is committed to good neighboring relations and removing obstacles from the free movement of goods and people. 

Head of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) Isa Mustafa, one of the largest political forces in Kosovo, also said the 'mini Schengen' looks like a Yugoslavia in the making.

"We who have lived through Yugoslavia do not want to experience it again. We also don't want those who have not lived through it to experience it," Mustafa said.

LDK deputies who also spoke about the initiative, on the other hand, argued that Rama is undertaking this initiative to avert attention from the internal crisis happening in Tirana and within his own circle. 

Meanwhile, economic and regional experts have 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. 


Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina doubt 'mini Schengen' benefits 

Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina have asked for some time to assess their implication.

Bosnia and Herzegovina Council of Ministers Chairman Denis Zvizdic said that "we in BiH do not have a consensus on this initiative or have a firm stance and will need Bosnia and Herzegovina institutions, such as the Council of Ministers or the Presidency, to be formally introduced with the content of the initiative and the expected benefits from it."

Montenegrin Economy Minister Dragica Sekulic said that her country believes in general in regional interconnection but also believes there is a lot of unused potential in the existing regional initiatives and that it will allow experts to decide on this latest one. 


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times December 20, 2019 11:59