Regional Leaders Promote “Open Balkan” Agreement

Meeting in Skopje on 29 July 2021, leaders from Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia agreed on a broad set of measures aiming to open the borders between their three countries and more closely integrate the national economies of the Western and Southern Balkans. 

President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia, and prime ministers Edi Rama of Albania and Zoran Zaev of North Macedonia signed an Agreement on Cooperation in Disaster Protection, a Memorandum on Free Access to the Labor Market, and a Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation on Facilitating Import, Export and Movement of Goods in the Western Balkans. 

If fully implemented, the agreements would by 2023 open the economic borders between the three countries and create an open market of some eleven million people. The Open Balkans project also stands to draw greater interest in the region from international investors; Serbian president Vucic, for example, claimed that the three Open Balkans countries will in the future attract some 80 percent of the new investments in the region. 

All three leaders stressed that the other countries of the Western Balkans would be encouraged to join the new initiative, which has been dubbed “Open Balkans.” For various reasons, however, some elements in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro all reject joining the Open Balkans initiative. Some feel it is an unacceptable substitute to full EU membership, others believe that Serbia, as the largest economy in the region, stands to gain more from the Open Balkans project than other states. 

EU officials, rhetorically at least, have voiced their support for the initiative, seeing it as a step towards creating the Common Regional Market endorsed by the leaders of six Balkan countries at the Balkan Summit in Sofia in November 2020.