One of the most exciting Balkan economic initiatives has now been supercharged and rebranded “Open Balkans”. Historically called Mini Schengen — named after the EU’s passport and duty-free zone — the drive for regional cooperation is an agreement to abolish border controls between the signature nations, deepening economic ties between them.
As it stands today, three nations have signed the agreement and various memorandums. It is hoped that others will soon follow, effectively creating a new trading block adjacent to the EU.
The term of the agreement sees regional cooperation on natural disasters, enabling mutual aid in the event of earthquakes, storms, fires, and other catastrophes — a first for the region.
But the exciting developments are contained in two signed memorandums; the first specifically aimed at easing trade between the nations, including reducing unnecessary paperwork and speeding up the transit of goods at the border. Fast-track border crossings for Balkan citizens are also in discussion — something sorely missing today.
The secondary memorandum is equally transformative, promising to liberate labour markets. It is envisioned that work permits will be recognised region-wide, no matter where they have been issued. Similarly, so will diplomas and job qualifications. This is expected to make the workforce more flexible as well as attract more inward investment.
The importance of this intra-government initiative was shown at the recent Regional Economic Forum on 22 July 2021, held in the North Macedonian capital, Skopje, and had a significant show of support from over 350 businesses.
The Open Balkan initiative will give the regional governments involved an opportunity to strengthen their economic ties, provide freedom of movement, and create some sort of ‘mini-EU’ in the Balkans. From a purely economic perspective, this new form of regional cooperation should positively impact the business environment in Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania, and the broader Balkan peninsula. It is anticipated to be welcomed by governments, businesses, and citizens alike.