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Western Balkans

Tulad ng stall ng mga pag-uusap ng EU, ang mga estado ng Balkan ay lumipat patungo sa paglikha ng isang mini-Schengen

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At the end of the summer, the leaders of Serbia, Albania and Northern Macedonia signed a trilateral accord that could be seen as the building block of a regional agreement similar to what the Schengen Area represents from most of the EU, sumulat si Cristian Gherasim, tagapagbalita sa Bucharest.

Called the Open Balkan initiative, the idea of forming a common market for countries awaiting EU membership was even previously known as the Mini-Schengen Area.

Basically what the agreement stands for is an initiative based on trade and freedom of movement of goods and citizens and equal access to labor markets, exactly what EU’s Schengen Area is for.

Estimates show that member countries would save up to $ 3.2 billion (2.71 billion euros) each year, according to World Bank estimates.

There has been a similar initiative in the past called the Berlin Process which focused on the future enlargement of the European Union. The Berlin Process was initiated in order to consolidate and maintain the dynamics of the EU integration process in light of increased euroscepticism and the five-year moratorium on enlargement announced by then Commission President Jean Claude Juncker. Alongside some EU member states, the Berlin Process included six Western Balkan countries that are candidates for EU membership -Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania- or potential candidates -Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo.

The Berlin Process was spearheaded and kick started in2014 by Germans designed as mentioned for the countries of the Western Balkans, which never culminated in a binding agreement. Seven years later, the countries in the region are trying to show that they can do things on their own, with or without EU help.

Speaking about the mini-Schengen taking shape, Serbian Prime Minister Vučić said that "it is time to take matters into our own hands and decide for ourselves about our destiny and future" and boasted that "from 1 January 2023, no one will stop you from Belgrade to Tirana".

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In a similar fashion, Albanian Prime Minister Rama said in Skopje that the measure was meant to prevent the Western Balkans from getting stuck in a "small EU caricature, where for anything you need consensus and everyone can block everything through a veto."

However, without including all six Western Balkans nations in the agreement, there could be new divisions in the region.

The biggest issue is of course Kosovo, which Serbia does not recognize as an independent state and claims that its former province - geographically located right between Serbia, Northern Macedonia and Albania - is in fact part of its territory. Kosovo declared independence in 2008 after NATO's 1999 intervention led to the withdrawal of Belgrade-controlled forces from the ethnic Albanian-majority province. Kosovo leaders have criticized the creation of a mini-Schengen in the region, the initiative spearheaded by the Serbian PM.

Furthermore, issues that still affect the Western Balkans, such as growing nationalism, have led Bosnia to be ambivalent about joining an initiative led by a Serbian PM. Montenegrin leaders, such as Milo Đukanović, are also not sold on the agreement.

Yet the Open Balkan initiative might not be consolation enough for Balkan nations still waiting to join the EU.

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