Joint press conference in context of Open Balkans cooperation initiative

The Open Balkans cooperation initiative brought together leaders of Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia, namely the Prime Minister Edi Rama, President Aleksandar Vučić, and the Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Dimitrov, at a regular meeting in Belgrade on Thursday.

The Atlantic Council meeting with business representatives and government members of Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia also took place in the context of the Open Balkan initiative.

The three leaders then met with the 15 business community representatives from the participating countries, with talks focusing on ways towards more effective implementation of the free movement commitments, facilitating trade through creation of bureaucracy barriers-free spaces.

The three also held talks and appeared at a joint press conference after their meeting: 

 

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić: Ladies and gentlemen! Honourable journalists, dear friends, Mr. Rama, and Mr. Dimitrov.  I am very glad to have been given the opportunity to welcome our friends from Albania and North Macedonia today. I will try that my speech takes less than five minutes and I would focus on concrete terms, which I discussed with my two interlocutors.

I am sure they will also talk about documents and declarations we already approved or we will approve later today. I will comment on the talks we had and what we seek to accomplish in the coming period. We had a very important meeting with the business community representatives from our three countries.

We saw and witnessed the fact that the business community representatives, literally 100% of them, favour this project and this initiative and they realize the benefits they can reap from it. But what is really frustrating for everyone is the fact that we all acknowledge that we are not fully capable of delivering on what has been agreed at the political level, and therefore we agreed on the future steps we need to take and deliver on something we strongly believe in, because it is really a great initiative.

On behalf of Serbia, I can declare that Open Balkans is a very good, incredible initiative as it really makes the difference.

The initiative was not launched because of Edi Rama, Alexandar Vučić, Zoran Zaev or Nikola Dimitrov, but it was launched for the people, who live in every city or village in our countries.

We agreed on the formation of the Implementation Council, and we will soon agree on its composition. In the next seven to ten days, we will have meetings with representatives of customs, various agencies and phytosanitary inspections to see how the free flow of goods and services is going.

For the first time we discussed more seriously the free flow of services, and I am really grateful to the Atlantic Council and our friends on behalf of the United States of America, who helped us with the technological aspect and not only, but they also brought here people from Sarajevo and Pristina, not only within the Open Balkans framework, thus providing an exceptional contribution to this part of the meeting and the digital transformation of the whole region.

Our job in the coming period is to see where we have fallen short. And we have received the examples of our business people, who said that, if they want to export milk to North Macedonia and arrive at the border on Friday, they have to wait until Monday morning. This is unacceptable. When we want to import fruits and vegetables from North Macedonia to meet the needs of factories in Serbia, they have to wait for 24 to 30 hours at our borders, although we have already determined everything in detail with North Macedonia.

That is why we will establish full control over everything; we will work on Saturdays and Sundays, every day, because our economies depend on it; on whether we will succeed in yielding best possible results for our agricultural producers, for our factories, our employees, and for our companies.

We also agreed on further cooperation, because we really want to make the difference for our people to freely move freely without any border from Tirana to Skopje or Tirana to Nis in a year or a year and a half. It will be the same also for people travelling from Nis to Skopje or from Nis to Belgrade, so that no one stops anyone at the border.

This will definitely strengthen our economies.

In this regard, no one is intruding in political aspects, no one is infringing on the rights of our states, but we are just making efforts to make sure that our citizens live better and the entrepreneurs live incomparably better.

It is crucial to also include the companies operating in the software industry as part of the digital transformation and we have been granted the assistance from the Atlantic Council experts in a bid to press ahead with the digital transformation as soon as possible. We need to run and speed up our efforts for a higher growth rate, faster economic development, because we lag behind the European developed nations and we must do everything we can to make it easier for our people to prosper more and further improve their lives.

We face incredible delays that we discussed today and we will try to resolve them, such as reciprocity for real estate purchases, so we are hindering and preventing entrepreneurs from investing in our countries and vice versa, and God knows what bureaucratic reasons are at the core of it and it is something we need to tackle as soon as possible.

I believe that in the next Tirana Summit, due to be held after the Christmas Eve, on December 26, 27 or December – setting the date is up to the host, Mr. Rama – we will sign, for example, the memorandum on work permits, which should be a real and legally valid deal so that we can keep our people here and they can freely work in the region.

Otherwise, as we have already seen today although I don’t oppose it, we will see more Indians, Turkish and workers from the Philippines, although we have the potential to keep our own people and citizens here in our region. We also need to agree on the free movement of the foreign citizens. So, if one of our countries allows a certain number of nationals from the Philippines, for example, to enter Serbia, because the country faces shortages of labour force, the same will be valid for Albania and North Macedonia.

I would say we explored all the issues and I guess we all are somehow frustrated, and I am actually more frustrated when we fail to deliver on everything we agree upon at a political level. We all need to sit together, every agency, the institutions, the inspectorate services, as the initiative services because this is not about politicians, but this is a story about citizens, entrepreneurs, business that needs to grow and further develop, a story about a fantastic idea that must prevail so that we can move forward.

That is why I am very happy and grateful and, most importantly, please keep in mind the fact that today we were briefed on the problems the entrepreneurs encounter. All the business community representatives, starting with leading ones from Serbia, Vasil Naçi from Albania – no other businessmen came from Albania – entrepreneurs from North Macedonia – everyone, , literally 100% of them favour this initiative, and they just want faster results for them.

Business community is asking us to become more active and don’t limit ourselves to issuing political statements only, but push things forward instead.

I was pleased to hear one of the business representatives noting that border procedures have been somehow eased compared to a few months ago, yet it is still way too far from what we are seeking to achieve and we need to really work hard on this.

Once again, thank you very much dear friends, guests!

Welcome to Belgrade, Welcome to Serbia and see you soon.

In the meantime we will have important meetings in Belgrade, then we will move to Tirana and I very much hope that immediately after that, we will move to Skopje or somewhere else in North Macedonia.

Thank you so much and I always wish you feel at home here in Belgrade!

Prime Minister Edi Rama: Thank you very much! I would like to note that the today’s meeting, unlike the previous ones, totally focused on people, entrepreneurs, companies, farmers, distributors, workers, the academics, the students, who are the real beneficiaries of the Open Balkans initiative, and who, in a way or another, suffer most from the border checks, long wait hours, bear the brunt of the bureaucracy procedures, agencies, controls, inspections, and so on and so forth.

I am very happy that we are focused on where the core of this initiative is.

The very essence of this initiative is how to expand our economies, how to expand our markets, still small ones in themselves, but if integrated with one other, they would grow to represent an important market, not only for our market players, but also for foreign direct investment in this area, because it is becoming increasingly clear – and this is most obvious in Serbia, but also in all other countries, but I am taking Serbia as an example that has made a big step forward in attracting foreign direct investment, – that this has a limit related to the market exploitation space and to attract more foreign direct investment and build a market that provides for much more quality employment and provides more for a rather added value, we need to offer a wider space.

I am very glad that we were provided today the opportunity to deal straightforwardly with entrepreneurs, companies, distributors from Albania, Serbia, North Macedonia, and their real problems and they all unanimously support the Open Balkans, and they asked that what we sign at the political and government level translates into a tangible reality for them at the border, where problems begin for them.

Fruit and vegetable exporters, milk exporters from Serbia, North Macedonia, and Albania, and it is impossible for their products to wait for days long at borders, extremely adding costs in terms of time and in terms of the people commitment, but also unimaginable cost on their products themselves, because it is impossible that you arrive at border on Friday evening and be forced to wait until Monday to take milk to the other side of the border, because would be turned into yogurt by then, or to transport products from Konispol to Serbia, from the field to the market, by taking it through customs or waiting three weeks for the permit to be confirmed by the agency of the other country.

On the other hand, we also met with the Atlantic Council, which you know quite well what it represents, specifically coming from Washington to support, not just the initiative in principle, but to support this effort, waiting to be acquainted with the results final of a general study, due to be revealed in Tirana, on the potential, the advantages and benefits of the Open Balkans for the six countries, not just the three countries.

On the other hand, we have agreed on a common position towards the European Union, clearly understanding the state of affairs within the EU after absurdly halting the process for Albania and North Macedonia, but also underlining that in the meantime we remain steadfast on the path towards building and meeting the EU standards in our own countries. On the other hand, we are convinced that while the European Union gets through its own dilemmas, the region’s integration has become their hostage, it can still consider some important steps to come closer to the region by integrating our universities into the network of the EU universities; by integrating our farmers into the EU’s support network for farmers; by integrating our countries into the certain aspects and segments of the common European market; and by also considering the Western Balkans as part of the EU when it comes to coping with the energy crisis and so on and so forth.

The tourism season has already ended, but we have noticed that the number of visitors from Serbia to Albania has increased by 63%. The number of tourists from North Macedonia visiting Albania has surged by 22%. The increase in the visitor numbers is a direct result in the economy, in addition to the growing positive energies of the Open Balkans initiative in the region.

We are committed and we have promised that in December in Tirana we are going to achieve concrete results so that, from January, there will be a great relaxation at the borders when it comes to the companies, to the distributors, and to the agriculture workers and farmers.

I explained today that every farmer whose success depends on the export of their products to North Macedonia and Serbia are actually the most fervent supporters of the Open Balkans cooperation initiative and that’s why the Western Balkans is definitely is an initiative serving people, serving the citizens’ welfare and prosperity, serving the welfare and prosperity of the society in these countries, which despite all the problems and discordances, which can certainly be part of our shared life, deserve to lead a better life, deserve to be granted a much wider free movement and interaction space in the benefit of their welfare.

Deputy Prime Minister of North Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov: Thank you, honourable President Vučić, honourable Prime Minister Edi Rama, honourable media representatives, and honourable citizens! Regional cooperation is a wise choice. Regional cooperation is the right choice and it is a European choice. I think there is no doubt when you face problems and on the other hand, you have the opportunity to find solutions and create your own better future.

It is really paramount and the importance the government of North Macedonia attaches to the regional cooperation and the Open Balkans initiative is best underscored by the fact that I am here in Belgrade today – and I would like to thank you for the warm hospitality – despite the current political phase in North Macedonia. We are going through a very complex situation, however this initiative is really important, so we cannot afford to miss these meetings of the three countries.

The Open Balkans initiative is the only long-term and sustainable vision for a stable and victorious Western Balkans, where borders become increasingly less important or even not important at all.

Consequently, the development of regional cooperation in the context of the Open Balkans Initiative is an excellent step forward towards this vision, towards the fulfilment of this European vision of a border-free Balkans.

The vision of one of the founding fathers of the European Union, (Robert) Schuman offered specific facts, with solidarity being at the very foundation of future integration. This means that we should take care of each other as we take care of ourselves.

The goal of this initiative is precisely this; to build solidarity by developing, creating a common regional market with free movement of goods, people, services and the transition towards a green economy, as well as assisting each other to cope with natural disasters.

Both the European Development Bank, the World Bank project the GDP in each of the countries to rise by 10%, compared to pre-pandemic growth. Bridging the economic gap is very important in the context of the region’s European integration prospect, when it comes to the citizens of our three countries and all the countries in the Western Balkans, and after all it would be a tremendous victory if we eliminate the trade barriers, making the region much more attractive to foreign investment.

As far as the of EU member states are concerned, the better and the more we cooperate in the region, the more we can convince them that we are a region that doesn’t import problems, and instead we are a region that produces solutions by strengthening its stability and this is possible if we are in charge and are masters of the results only.

This is actually the first time I met with successful business representatives and chambers of commerce from the three countries. We had honest talks and it was very informative for me, for example, a Macedonian company, which imports from Serbia and then exports to Serbia, has to wait at least for 3 weeks to obtain an approval from the national laboratory of the Phytosanitary and Food Safety Agency, despite the fact that the two friendly and neighbouring countries have reached an agreement stipulating that it will be suffice for the food or items to receive the approval of only one laboratory, be it Macedonian or Serbian.

Consequently, I think we have come up with a very specific plan to overcome these deficiencies in the region’s slow integration. We have demonstrated political will to do this and there are conditions for this political will to be translated into a legislative solution, which means international agreements, but what we lack – and I think we largely focused today – is implementation of these agreements.

At our next Tirana meeting by the end of December, we expect to announce a series of victories, including solutions to the problems and issues I already mentioned a bit earlier.

The more victories we score together, the more attractive the initiative becomes to other countries in the region. Inclusiveness is crucial. It is important for the initiative to remain open to all countries in the region and I believe that the more determined we are to move forward, the more attractive the initiative will become and this way we will tackle the hesitation from other countries.

In the documents we approved at today’s meeting, I have noted that regional cooperation is not an alternative to European integration. Cooperation and regional integration serves European integration, but it wouldn’t be reasonable for us if with the idea of European integration being undermined, we stand idly doing nothing. We as countries must act, we must make efforts and this must make us even more convincing and trustworthy in the eyes of the European Union.

* * *

– I have a question for each one of the leaders. First question goes to the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama. Mr. Prime Minister, you have stated that the Open Balkans is an implementing unit of the Berlin Process. Indeed, the Berlin Process includes six and not three countries only and Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina have closed their doors to the Open Balkans initiative. Does the Open Balkans risk being transformed from an implementing unit of the Berlin Process into a curtailed implementing unit, representing the political and economic interests of the three countries only and not the six Western Balkan countries?

Mr. Vučić, which is the way you plan to pursue in order to convince Kosovo to join the Open Balkans initiative, considering that few weeks ago, in the end of September, the relations between the two states, Kosovo and Serbia, were strained because of the reciprocity regarding the license plates. Will you follow certain concrete steps to convince Kosovo that Open Balkans is in best interest and for mutual benefit?

The last question goes to the Deputy PM of North Macedonia. The situation in North Macedonia is tense following Zoran Zaev’s resignation. Is the initiative at the crossroads because of the potential early elections in the country, as the opposition has called after convincingly winning the local elections and given that the VMRO DPMNE leader has voiced scepticism about the Open Balkans initiative? Is there a risk that North Macedonia leaves the Open Balkans initiative should the opposition VMRO DPMNE win the snap elections?

PM Edi Rama: Yes, precisely because the Berlin Process has imposed a set of values and criteria, it has run into sand and it is just about a summit here and there each year. And it is exactly this impossibility to deliver on what is said each year that this initiative was launched, and the initiative is nothing else but an implementation unit of the Berlin Process by speeding up and also monitoring the implementation of the Process.

The Open Balkans initiative is not about just three countries and, unlike the Berlin Process, it can’t be taken hostage by any of the countries, as it clearly stipulates that whichever the country wishes to move forward faster, it can do so without being forced to wait for consensus to be granted, as if being a caricature of the European Council. It is as simple as that.

I repeat, and this is clearly stated in the today’s joint declaration that will provided to you later on the day, we have we have again redefined for all those who pretend not to understand or do not wish to understand or do not understand, that the Open Balkans is open, is comprehensive and is there for everyone, not only for Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia only, but neither Albania, nor Serbia, nor North Macedonia that have decided to move faster, will wait to convince everyone else.

I have heard about the reasons why others are sceptical or refuse to join the initiative.

I have come across the reasons for Montenegro, I have learned about the reasons for Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have also very attentively listened to the reasons for Kosovo and I am very sorry to say, but I see them as reasons of non-reasoning. You said that it looks like that the Open Balkans initiative and the meetings taking place in this context are all about the economic interests of these countries. How do you consider Albania’s economic interests? Do you see it as a minor issue? There is no doubt that I am here for Albania’s economic interests. What else would I be here for? Am I here for the economic interests of Germany or China? I am here for Albania’s economic interests, which can definitely further strengthen through the Open Balkans initiative. I earlier provided a figure, but I can provide a lot more figures and I would tell you something else too. At the next Tirana summit in December, when we will submit to business community representatives we met here today and other big entrepreneurs in Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia the conclusions we have drawn as part of the Berlin process implementation, with the companies operating and cooperating with each other being included in a green lane , I can tell you that it shouldn’t be much of surprise to see companies from Montenegro, Bosnia and Kosovo joining this initiative ahead of the governments of their countries and they will definitely demand that they be included in the movement network so that they encounter no problems when entering the borders of our countries.

Do not be surprised because this is not a whim, it is not a conspiracy theory; it is not a hallucinatory vision that I, and Aleksandar Vučić or Zoran Zaev are experiencing. This is a pressing and desperate demand and an imperative of our economies, an imperative of our people, our citizens, entrepreneurs, farmers, students, academics, and visitors who definitely wish to travel for tourism purposes. What do you think we are? Are we stupid to leave all Balkans great potential to increase the number of tourists to Albania untapped? No. We need everything for our economy and we will definitely do whatever it takes. Is it about Albania’s economic interests? Yes, definitely. It is of course all about Albania’s economic interests.

Deputy PM of North Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov: Thank you! As for the question about the supposed risks because of the political crisis in our countries and that is closely related to the opposition’s stance, I would say it is really interesting that you highlighted the words “risk or danger” and “the opposition leader”. I personally identify danger with the opposition leader indeed. I don’t think that the political situation in North Macedonia has reached the phase of competition with the government. It would be best for such a competition to be in place, with the political stakeholders showing who can perform and deliver better. We held mayoral elections most recently. Although we as government assume our responsibility for the local elections result, I can tell you that the parties in the governing coalition have gained a higher number of votes than the opposition. I am speaking hypothetically, but Macedonian citizens want to move forward. The majority of the citizens want to move forward and moving forward means good neighbourhood relations and regional cooperation.

That’s why I am confident that in this case too – and of course this is what is going to happen – we are a democracy and a government change is something more than normal, because the will of the citizens is such that whoever takes office will we have to move forward, which means that the country’s Europeanization, strengthening the democracy and growth of our economy, which requires closer cooperation with our neighbours, so I do not see any danger so that I leave the country. It is of paramount importance that my country, North Macedonia remains part of this initiative. It is important for the development of our economy and the region’s European future.

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić: I don’t want to comment on the reasons. I see no reason. I don’t see the September problems the way you see them, but I don’t want to comment on that. This conference topic, the topic of today’s meeting, is completely different. We have opened the doors to Pristina, Sarajevo, and Podgorica, but as long as I serve as Serbia’s President I won’t answer the same question at every meeting. Not because I find it difficult to provide an answer,  or that I mind answering the relevant question, but I think that the three of us, together with our delegations, have grasped the core of the problems. We understood the essence of the problems and concerns that our people are facing and we are trying to solve these problems.

We have a lot of work, a lot of other issues to deal with instead of finding excuses. If we have to do this, I don’t even think about finding an excuse to anyone, neither in the EU nor in the region. You asked Nikola to comment on the future decision of North Macedonia.

Please, let’s think for a while. People in North Macedonia, the nearest country, think that Serbia is the nearest country, but when it comes to Albania, people have other opinions. Why should we think of the relations between these countries this way? This won’t be serious politics. If we always find excuses and say this is part of this and that process, we won’t be able to deliver. No. We are doing this for the sake of our citizens and to their benefit. Why should we always provide explanations and excuses about everything we do? Helping each other in case of earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters is the best thing we can do. Should we justify that our people will cross the border faster than they do now, that our trucks will no longer wait 24 or 48 hours at borders. Why should we explain everything to everyone? And of course, when we do that, we are told to wait for others. Then they say: “W we do not want to join the initiative because of Vučić, or because of Rama. It’s ok. You are not obliged to do so. No one is forcing you to do so.

Last night we discussed it with the Prime Minister of Montenegro. We had a meeting last evening. We focused on the benefits from the initiative and he said that the part concerning cooperation in response to the natural disasters was important for him and that he would consider an agreement on this aspect, but we didn’t push him and we didn’t force him. We just explained how beneficial and helpful the initiative could be for every country.

Therefore, allow me to say that the very same person who noted that the situation is not quite favourable at the border between North Macedonia and Serbia; he also acknowledged that the situation there has actually improved a lot now. However, the situation is not really favourable at the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the wait time is much longer. This is what PM Rama and Deputy PM Dimitrov were told by the business community representatives. But, who is interested in this? If you are to analyze it politically, this should be the closest and the nearest idea about several capital cities in the region. This will be to the benefit of everyone. But there are some political ideas, they always happen in elections and it is always easier to grab some political points based on hatred towards someone rather than resorting to good and constructive relations.

We will tackle our relations with Pristina through the Brussels-mediated dialogue, because we have different views, but the Open Balkans initiative grants freedom to people in the region, provides freedom to the entrepreneurs and boosts trade exchange. We discussed digitalization, transformation of our societies, and ways to work on these issues. I don’t understand why one should oppose all this. Whoever wishes to join in is welcome. Whoever doesn’t wish to do so, it is up to them, but you will all witness the change to the economic growth rate in our countries, but it will certainly take time to yield its results.

-Mr President, you expressed discontent when it comes to implementation of the current agreements. At the previous meeting in Skopje, you said that removing borders will be the most important part as countless border checks will be avoided, a number of customs taxes will be removed, but the challenge is still there if a series of administrative issues are not tackled. How long would it take for these issues of administrative reciprocity to be resolved?

-Mr. Rama and Mr. Deputy Prime Minister of North Macedonia, you said that the initiative is not an alternative to EU integration. Do you think that the Open Balkans initiative is something already taking place, while a date has yet to be set for your countries to open the EU accession talks?

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić: If I may, I would say that the three of us are doing the best for our citizens, our environment and our country’s path towards EU integration. What matters most is that people are at the heart of this process, and not us, not the processes, not the initiatives and our meetings. It is the ordinary citizens we are caring about, starting with our farmers, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, workers, residents living in our villages. The initiative is all about them. This is also the reason why we are doing all this. This is the reason why we were really frustrated today at finding out the lack of sufficient results in this issue. We will fix it in the coming months. We agreed and we need to act this way and see how the initiative will be finalized.

If customs checks are performed in Subotica or Belgrade, there is no need for other stops and checks at borders with North Macedonia and with Albania. Of course, one might undergo security scanner checks when suspected of smuggling something, but once clear one can move on and drive to Tirana or Durres, where another customs terminal operates and where the customs clearances and other procedures are carried out and that’s all. There is no need for people to stop at every border crossing point. We should connect digitally. This is the reason why representatives of our customs administrations will meet in the next seven days and they have to address countless issues. We should work hard and make sure that our regulations and procedures on VAT, the activity of our security services and information sharing are all aligned and harmonized. This is what we plan to do. This is part of the roadmap on what we plan to do. And indeed this is what we will do next year. These are all extraordinary ideas to the benefit of our citizens. This is something we will persist to deliver. For example, Albania has compiled a green list of 20 Albanian companies, we have 30 to 40 companies, which we know are safe to go through the security scanner easily by presenting the customs declarations and go on to reaching their final destination. This is the way we will make trade exchanges freer. Serbia’s Ministry of Trade should commit itself and work a lot more to deliver on all these issues. I very much hope that other countries will join, because the initiative will be incredibly beneficial to everyone. Thank you.

PM Edi Rama: The claim suggesting that the Open Balkans initiative is competing with European integration is wrong. The initiative is complementary to European integration, while in real life, which takes place outside the cameras’ attention, there is constant interaction between real people who work, who produce, who collect, who transport and who trade.

These people are the ones suffering, literally suffering from the border procedures and the bureaucratic procedures applied by every country. Can one question the right of those who are seeking to work normally and exchange normally, just because one sitting in a comfortable armchair of a TV studio terrorizes people about the Open Balkans, the European Union, peace and war?

Can one deny the right of the hard working people to export their products just because someone else doesn’t care about such people at all and is ready to totally isolate his own people and invent theories and all sorts of stories I don’t know about, as it has actually been the case over so many years.

Is it possible to isolate all these people from Konispol –  Albania’s southernmost tip at border with Greece and they represent the group of people calling for the Open Balkans, because they must somehow go all the way along “the Magellan’s route” just to transport their watermelons, tangerines, strawberries and a lot of other local produce to North Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is much easier to travel all the way to Australia by plane, including the checks and wait transit time.  It is currently a 14 hour drive for a truck from Albania to reach Bosnia and Herzegovina transporting watermelons, which is a highly sought-after fruit in that country, but the watermelons can rot until they reach the destination because of the delays caused by the prolonged customs procedures and wait time.

Moreover, can we afford ourselves to keep dealing with the sex of angels as the Byzantine priests were busy quarrelling about while the Constantinople was falling and expect for Brussels, Berlin or elsewhere figure out what Open Balkans initiative is, when they actually know very well what this initiative is?

Imagine we were to deliver on all these I am saying and everything already said and discussed with the companies from Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania are all about various issues we have had on the table of talks under the Berlin Process three, four or five years ago. Why none of them have been done? Who is going to do them? Will Angela Merkel or Ursula von der Leyen personally come and do all these for us, or others will do so though they still don’t know what they want from us? No, we are the ones who would do them. Even when we commit ourselves to doing all these, we still encounter difficulties when it comes to their implementation, because bureaucracy has its own rhythm, its own physiology. Will we allow all these to go on this way for another decade so that borders open for people, goods, watermelons and tangerine, milk, eggs and everything else to move freely? For what reason should we do so? For what reason people, hard working people who cultivate the land and export should keep being tormented? It is our duty not only to free them, but also open up the perspective for other people to join and look for themselves the potential of a much bigger market in this region, a market interested in such products.

Our language differs, but the bureaucracy procedures are all the same.

To conclude, I would like to underline that when it comes to Kosovo, what has been constantly said and publicly reiterated here and at every meeting I have had with all international partners, is that the three other countries, indiscriminately, are invited to join us and work with us for their own people. The issue of discordance and disputes should be solved through dialogue. However, there is something I believe everyone should know. If the six countries were to participate, the atmosphere to treat other issues would be much better both for Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I am often berated and I am always told about Germany and France, when I illustrate the case of the two countries and state that Albanians and Serbs in the Balkans are like French and Germans are for Europe and they owe the future generations to do the best for Balkans and for themselves just like Germans and French do. But they keep telling untrue stories.

Germany and France started everything with the economic cooperation, they started with the agreement on establishing the steel and coal community, the accord on youth exchanges, they started with facilitating procedures for the entrepreneurship, they started right where it hurt people most after the war, the economy and welfare and they then realized they were doing much better than when they were fighting each other.

I am very pleased that the President noted that the initiative is not limited to anyone. Everyone is invited to discuss all the EU freedoms, the freedom of movement of people, capital, goods and services. When it comes to Montenegro, they expect to join the European Union next year. This is what I was told by the Prime Minister and I understand it. I told the Montenegrin PM that since they expect to join the EU next year and if they really join the bloc, we will then have another advocate defending the Open Balkans initiative in its capacity as an EU member. Let’s see whether Montenegro will join the EU next year. I really wish that the European Council endorses Montenegro’s membership in its meeting in June.

We have no information suggesting that this is going to be the case, but I am convinced that Montenegro would support the Open Balkans initiative once the country joins the EU. If Montenegro fails to join the EU, we have invited the country to join the initiative, because we can’t force the EU to accept us as members. However, we owe our people to create right here the European space for all freedoms and once we join the EU we do so after having developed a culture of coexistence, which is the EU culture, and we know quite well what the free movement and everything else are. This initiative is a school for European integration.

He was very happy to join the initiative to jointly fight forest fires. We will be very happy to extinguish the forest fires together with Montenegro. We will then invite Montenegro to join us in the December 2022 summit and tell us how quickly the country managed to become a EU member or join the Open Balkans initiative.

Deputy PM of North Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov: In the context of the Open Balkans initiative and the European integration processes, I have already stated that this is an initiative of Open Balkans, which for us means to make borders less important, develop potential for economic growth. Three elements: solutions, economic growth and more stability are all arguments in favour of European integration. I am fully confident that the Open Balkans initiative is complementary to European integration.

I would like to briefly comment on the European perspective. I regret to say that it is hard to find a country being a better or a worse example. What happens when the EU fails to deliver on its promises?

Citizens actually lose their faith and grow increasingly sceptical about the success of this process, citizens lose faith that they will have a European future and most recently I have rectified myself, because it is not fair to criticise the whole bloc, as we face problems with one EU member only. The European Commission, in the framework of its enlargement package, has clearly underlined that the delays in the European integration process for Albania and North Macedonia actually undermine the credibility of the EU throughout the region. But this veto is not only a veto on our European future, but it is also a veto on European policy in the Balkans, it is a veto on the friendship of Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

As far as regional cooperation is concerned and as far as what we can do is concerned, as we expect this issue to be resolved within the EU, nobody can impose a veto regarding the regional context.

The goal of European integration is that my country becomes stronger, so that the region can become stronger too, to build stronger democracy, build more and better justice. This is something we are all working individually.

Indeed, the criteria are adding up. However, this is not about us or the region alone. If the European Union wishes to become a global player, it can’t afford failing globally. This is a region surrounded by the EU member states and from the EU viewpoint our region is a local problem. If they fail to act here in the region, they can’t do so globally. So the region is very important to the EU.

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić: I would like to say that they are always welcome. I would also like to emphasize how right Edi was about the Open Balkans initiative and I want everyone to understand that this is not a supportive initiative. It is an excellent initiative, a great hope that we can change things in the future. Suffice it to look at Serbs and Albanians. Edi talked about the Germans and the French while the Albanians and Serbs are here in the region. So there is no need to fight over who the Germans and the French are. This initiative is politically the right way to overcome problems, the best way to get to know each other, the best way to understand each other, in order to reach the right conclusions to never threaten peace and our peoples, Serbs, Albanians, Macedonians to live in the best way.