On November 3, the leaders of the Western Balkans, heads of states and/or governments will attend the Berlin Process Summit, which after some pause is again being activated as an initiative that through specific measures aims to strengthen the capacities of the institutions in the countries of the region for achieving the EU standards and for a strong regional connectivity and cooperation.
The moment when Berlin announced the “restarting” of the Berlin process, the skeptics and those who have disputed the Open Balkan initiative, again became quite visible and loud with their theses that the OB is a “duplication of the Berlin process”.
Moreover, when taking into consideration all the remarks referred to the Open Balkan, one doesn’t have to be a who knows what kind of an analyst to recognize that the source of skepticism and of those who oppose the Open Balkan in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, is there sentiment towards Serbia, that is, towards the President of this country, Aleksandar Vucic, in whom they see a figure who has imposed or “kidnapped” this initiative as a political process.
With full understanding for the historical, and even contemporary reasons for the sensitivity of Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina in regards to Serbia, which they see as a personification in Aleksandar Vucic, it’s not fair to see the Open Balkan as an initiative with a sole benefit for Serbia and “its interests” to take on the leadership in the region.
If we want to be honest and speak openly about that aspect of the Open Balkan, then Edi Rama is much more of a “spectacle” star at the summits of this initiative than Aleksandar Vucic is.
But jokes aside, there are many reasons why the Open Balkan should not be “attached” without any basis and solely to the interests of Serbia and of Vucic.
First, it’s not fair because of all the benefits of the Open Balkan so far, as well as from the aspect of those that are yet expected, but also from the aspect of the sovereign decision of Albania and North Macedonia to participate in this process without having pretentiousness to take on leadership or to leave the leadership to someone else.
All three countries so far have shown that the only motivation for the Open Balkan initiative is accomplishing tangible benefits for the citizens and companies of the business communities, facilitating movement, opening a regional labor market with access to new jobs, assistance between the countries in conditions of an economic and energy crises, mutual help in natural disasters…
Furthermore, the Open Balkan has constantly, since the beginning, sent the invitation and remained open to all countries of the region. The Open Balkan has a clear policy of open doors, the invitation to Montenegro, to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to Kosovo is constantly active, and it can already be noticed that other countries like Greece, Turkey and Hungary have also shown interest for cooperation with the initiative.
This summit, as announced, will also be attended by the Prime Minister of our country, Dimitar Kovacevski, and his participation at the meeting in Berlin is an excellent opportunity for him to once again affirm the position that the Berlin Process and the Open Balkan complement each other and that the region will advance better and in a more quality way in the processes of achieving the EU standards for a quicker integration into the union only if the different initiatives are coordinated, assisted, integrated. Without monopolizing the benefits, without their exclusiveness and with exchanging and intertwining of best experiences from all processes.
The Berlin process is ok, but the Open Balkan encouraged a huge number of tourists from Serbia to Albania, or participation of 333 wineries from the region at the first international fair “Wine Vision by Open Balkan”, which enabled wine producers to expand their business, establish new and strengthen existing business contacts.
Open Balkan, as an initiative that later translated into concrete measures for the implementation of the four freedoms in the region, had the support of Brussels from the very beginning, and still does.
For the EU it was always clear that the Open Balkan is an initiative for greater regional integration that they saw as an “added value” of the Berlin Process and of the individual efforts of each Western Balkan country to accelerate the EU integration process and to achieve their membership in the EU.
In that direction was also the strong and unequivocal message of the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, from the parliamentary podium in Skopje when she said that “The future of your country is in the European Union, and Europe is not complete without North Macedonia. We want you in the EU!”.
The pragmatic Americans, on the other side, had a completely rational and, I would say, “sobering” approach when it comes to the dilemma of whether the Open Balkan is a “political project” of a dominant actor in the initiative.
US Special Envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, at the Open Balkan summit in Ohrid in June this year, outlined that Washington does not see the Western Balkans from the perspective of the conflicts in the 1990s, but from the perspective of the future, as a region with mutual cooperation, a region that takes advantage of its geographical position.
Escobar emphasized that the United States support the Open Balkan initiative and added that it opens great opportunities for Europe and the US and that it should be seen as an “important economic project”.
Hence, a region that with both initiatives, both through the Berlin Process and the Open Balkan, has showed that it has serious potential for successful regional cooperation and progress, as significant, essential steps around which all peoples and citizens in the region should unite for a better common future in the European Union.
Translation: N. Cvetkovska