If the “Open Balkans” initiative does not include all six Western Balkan countries, then it will not work, US envoy to the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar said on Wednesday, 24 November.
During an online address to the “Open Balkans” conference held in the Serbian Parliament, Escobar said that regional initiatives should be equally open to all countries.
The “Open Balkans” co-operation initiative includes Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia and envisages the free movement of goods, capital, services and people between the three countries.
Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not part of the “Open Balkans”.
Escobar warned that among the challenges of the “Open Balkans” remain border control after their opening, reducing corruption and reducing state control over the economy.
“In addition, it is important that these three countries that initiated the ‘Open Balkans’ remain open and talk closely with the other three partners who remain skeptical,” Escobar added.
As he stressed, in the regional initiative there should be equality for all citizens and projects and there should be no discrimination based on ethnicity.
The US envoy to the Western Balkans added that the US is ready to assist regional initiatives, if they do not hinder European integration.
“We are ready to help them on this path, to achieve international standards, to partner with Europe, to ensure that this region becomes one of the most important economies in Europe,” said Escobar.
“It is time to unleash the economic potential of the Western Balkan countries and strengthen their European future,” said US Ambassador to Belgrade Anthony Godfrey.
“We support the Open Balkans plan, which is comprehensive, in order to ensure the free movement of goods, people, capital and services,” he said.
What is the Open Balkans
The initiative for regional cooperation “Open Balkans”, which includes Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania, was taken by the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, current take care Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev and Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, in October 2019.
The initiative was originally called “Mini Schengen”. It envisages a free movement of capital, goods, services and people between the three countries.
In July this year, at the Forum for Regional Economic Cooperation in Skopje, the initiative was renamed to “Open Balkans”.