The governments of Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia have finalised an Open Balkan agreement that will see businesses operating in the security and defence industries enjoy reduced customs and border procedures.
The three leaders of the so-called Open Balkan initiative- Aleksandar Vucic, Zoran Zaev and Edi Rama- are set to hold their 7th summit in Tirana from 20-21 December this year to sign a deal regarding work permits issued by any of the three countries. The group has committed to removing border checks from January 2023.
Neighbouring Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina have all refused to join the Open Balkan initiative, no doubt concerned that doing so could curb their focus on accession to the European Union. All three countries maintain that the Berlin Process and the Common Regional Market initiative already provide an adequate infrastructure for regional economic cooperation.
In Albania, an opposition movement led by Sali Berisha has called for protests against the Open Balkan initiative, as well as Vucic’s presence in the country.
“I had warned Milosevic Jr. not to come to Tirana,” said Berisha, citing Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s former position as minister of propaganda for the “Butcher of the Balkans”, Slobodan Milosevic.
The main opposition Democratic Party (PD), led by Lulzim Basha, has been largely supportive of Albania joining the Open Balkan initiative. Even so, it has criticised the government for failing to collaborate closely enough with Kosovo, and for leaning on Open Balkan to hide its failure to secure Albania’s accession to the EU.
Berisha’s pushback against the Open Balkan comes at an opportune time for the politician, amid an internal power struggle between Berisha and Basha over the helm of the PD. The leadership is claimed by both men, who each argue that they have the majority support of the party’s members.
At a PD convention last week, attendees voted in favour of Berisha. A follow-up convention this week nullified those results, after Basha claimed the competing convention was illegitimate.
The catalyst for the current conflict was Basha’s decision, at the request of the US, to dismiss Berisha from the PD parliamentary group in September this year after the latter was designated “persona non grata” amid corruption concerns.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama is set to sign a raft of deals at the upcoming Open Balkan summit on 20 December, including agreements on the labor market, electronic identification, and nontariff barriers.
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