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Open Balkans: Leaders pledge to implement freedom of movement measures more effectively

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BELGRADE – The leaders of Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia met today in Belgrade with representatives of the business community within the framework of the Open Balkan initiative, after which they highlighted the need to more effective implementation of free movement commitments in the Western Balkans. They announced that the next meeting would be held in Tirana in December.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said at the joint press conference that businessmen fully support the initiative.

“However, what is, I would say, frustrating is the fact that what we had agreed to, we have not been able to fully implement. That is why we agreed today how we will proceed in the future,” Vučić said.

He announced that the leaders had agreed on the formation of the Implementation Council and that in the next seven to ten days, meetings will be held between the customs agencies, phytosanitary and veterinary inspections of the three countries in order to analyze how the movement of goods moves forward.

Vučić said that services and digital transformation were also the topics of the meeting and he thanked the Atlantic Council for providing expertise in this area.

“Our job in the coming period is to see where we failed, and we received the examples from our businessmen, who said that if they want to export milk to North Macedonia and get to the border Friday, they have to wait until Monday. This is unacceptable,” Vučić said, adding that this was happening despite the existence of formal agreements between Serbia and North Macedonia and therefore a review of the implementation was warranted.

The President of Serbia also announced the next meeting within the framework of this initiative, which is expected to take place in Tirana in December, after Christmas Day. He said that during the meeting, a memorandum of understanding on work permits would be on the agenda, the aim of which would be to keep residents in the Western Balkans and not depend on foreign workers.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said business representatives asked leaders to translate into reality at border crossings what was signed at the political level.

He also thanked the members of the Atlantic Council for their support of the initiative and announced that his study on the benefits of economic integration of the six Western Balkan countries would be presented in Tirana.

“We are committed and we have promised that in December in Tirana we will obtain concrete results so that from January there will be a great relaxation of the borders with regard to businesses, distributors and agriculture. workers,” Rama said.

North Macedonia Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Dimitrov, replacing Zoran Zaev who announced his resignation as prime minister on Sunday, said it would be very beneficial to eliminate trade barriers, making the region more attractive for investments.

“The better we cooperate in the region, the easier it will be for us to convince EU countries that we will not import problems, but produce solutions,” Dimitrov said.

He said there were conditions for the political will expressed by leaders to overcome the current trade problems in the region to be translated into legal solutions, that is, international agreements that are lacking.

“At our meeting in Tirana in December, we would like to announce a large number of victories,” Dimitrov said, adding that the inclusive nature of the initiative is important and the more successful the Open Balkan is, the more it will be for him. easy to attract other countries in the region.

Responding to a question from a journalist, Edi Rama said that the Open Balkan was inclusive, but that Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia, which decided to move faster, will not wait for others skeptical countries in the region.

Asked whether North Macedonia’s participation in the Open Balkan would be threatened if VMRO-DPMNE, which has expressed reservations about the initiative, comes to power, Nikola Dimitrov said that for the citizens of the North Macedonia, it is important to move forward, which includes cooperation with neighbors, regardless of who is in power. He stressed that it was important that the country remained part of the initiative.

Aleksandar Vučić said he would not justify to anyone that the Open Balkan is “part of this or that process, to avoid getting bad grades”.

“Whoever wants to join (the Open Balkan) is welcome, no one is forcing anyone. You will see, in a few years, a difference between us and everyone else in terms of economic growth,” Vučić said.

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