Montenegro plans to join ‘Open Balkan’ initiative, Kosovo remains opposed
Representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania and Montengro at the Open Balkan Summit in Ohrid, North Macedonia. Photo: EPA-EFE/GEORGI LICOVSKY
Montenegrin Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic said at the Open Balkan summit in the city of Ohrid on Wednesday that he views the initiative favorably, but said he will first have to weigh all its aspects with his cabinet before deciding. make a decision about membership.
“I see the Open Balkan initiative as helping to jointly create a future of economic progress, businesses, increased mobility of citizens and increased cooperation in all areas. Any initiative that can lead to progress and reconciliation will benefit from the support from the Montenegrin government,” Abazovic said.
The initiative, led by Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania, has so far been rebuffed by Kosovo, Bosnia and Montenegro.
Like Abazovic, the head of Bosnia’s Council of Ministers, Zoran Tegeltija, attended the summit as an observer, but was less optimistic that his country might join the initiative.
Tegeltija said that despite the Bosnian business community and public generally supporting the initiative, his country still lacks a consensus on it for “political reasons”.
This is the first time that a summit of the initiative has attracted representatives from five of the six Western Balkan countries, which is seen as considerable progress.
Countries that have not yet joined the initiative, Kosovo, Bosnia and Montenegro, have expressed concern that it will become unnecessary, as the issues of building closer regional ties and overcoming Bureaucratic barriers for businesses and corporations are already on the EU integration agenda.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary overseeing Western Balkan Policy Gabriel Escobar said in a video address to the summit that the United States supports the initiative and that countries involved should strive to keep it focused on the economy. and not to turn it into a political movement.
“That’s how you will get more support,” he said, adding that to be successful, the initiative will have to integrate the six Western Balkan countries and should align its program with all other regional initiatives like the process. of Berlin from the EU.
EU Enlarge also addressed the summit and expressed support from Brussels.
“Open Balkan can be an opportunity to accelerate the path of European integration. If we do the job well, we will accelerate the economic integration of the region,” he said.
This in turn should be a key factor in accelerating the region’s true European integration, he added.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the region needed cooperation more than ever due to food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine.
Reiterating that the initiative should not be seen as an alternative to the EU, Vucic stressed that his country is interested in solving practical problems.
“We have no requests for anyone except to cooperate… Everyone is welcome. I want us to form working groups immediately or at the next meeting, to make sure we overcome food and energy supply difficulties, and help each other survive the winter,” Vucic said.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama also stressed the need for practical solutions.
“We have winter on the horizon, which will cause a power shortage in the market. We don’t have the luxury of turning our backs on each other and waging conflict. We will also be jointly confronted with the problem of [procuring] cereals,” Rama said.
Kosovo reiterated that it had no intention of joining the initiative.
Prior to the summit, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti rejected an invitation from the summit host, North Macedonia Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski, to attend the event.
In his response to Kovacevski, Kurti said that his country is already engaged in the Berlin Process, which is trying to establish similar ties between Western Balkan countries, and therefore sees no reason to join the Open Balkan initiative.