Western allies are urging the Montenegrin authorities to change their mind and join the Open Balkan ‘mini-Schengen’ economic initiative, but less secure borders will bring risks, warned analyst Zlatko Vujovic.

Montenegro Being Urged to Join ‘Risky’ Open Balkan Initiative: Analyst

Montenegrin PM Zdravko Krivokapic (right), Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (centre) and Albanian PM Edi Rama (left) at a meeting in Belgrade. Photo: Government of Montenegro

Montenegro’s Western partners have been urging the Montenegrin authorities to drop their reluctance to join the Open Balkan initiative established by the governments of Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia, said Zlatko Vujovic, head of the Centre for Monitoring and Research, CEMI.

“US allies are showing the desire to make Montenegro a member of this initiative, although it’s far from being in the Montenegrin interest. So many unstable countries coming into the project will destabilise and ruin the project itself. These countries are simply not at the level of development for such ambitious goals,” Vujovic told BIRN.

He claimed that the scheme, which involves lifting barriers on the movement of goods and people between Balkan countries, has risks that are difficult to eliminate at the moment because of the limitations of the countries involved.

“Removing border crossings would not only enable unhindered movement of goods and persons but also remove obstacles to unhindered smuggling of narcotics and cigarettes,” he said.

“Criminal groups would get unhindered movement, and countries in the region do not have their own or shared security resources to prevent or limit these phenomena,” he added.

At a summit in 2019, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, that time North Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic committed to working together on the initiative.

They also invited other Balkan countries, but Montenegro, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina have not joined so far.

Bosnia and Montenegro have said they see no particular benefits from it, as easing travel and trade are already covered by the wider CEFTA trade agreement between countries in South-East Europe, while Kosovo’s premier Albin Kurti has said that he would prefer an improved version of the CEFTA agreement.

In November, Montenegrin Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic said there is no need to join the Open Balkan initiative as EU membership is the key goal for his country.

But in December, Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic stated that Montenegro strongly supports any kind of improvement of regional cooperation.

“If we look at Open Balkan as an alternative to the EU, then we are not for it, but I am not sure that this initiative is in conflict with European integration. On the contrary, any kind of deeper cooperation would lead to faster reforms,” Abazovic said.

US deputy secretary of state Gabriel Escobar said in November that the Open Balkan initiative will not work if it does not include all six Western Balkan states. Addressing an online conference at the Serbian parliament, Escobar said the main challenges of the initiative are border controls.

“The US is ready to assist regional initiatives if they do not hinder European integration. We are ready to help you on this path and achieve international standards,” Escobar said.

In December, EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi praised the Open Balkan initiative as a successor to the Berlin Process, a previous EU-backed initiative to boost regional cooperation among Western Balkan countries, and urged other states to join.

Source link: balkaninsight.com