Starović: Open Balkans is a leading initiative in terms of regional cooperation
Just before the anniversary of the start of the regional Initiative, Starović reminds for Tanjug that our country has received the full support of Northern Macedonia and Albania, and that its goal is to apply the basic principles on which the EU operates in the Western Balkans – free movement of people, goods, capital and services.
Reminding that the Initiative was launched two years ago, Starović says that there is a certain slowness in its implementation, which is caused by the corona virus, but also that the pandemic gave it additional meaning due to the level of solidarity which the countries in the region have shown to each other.
Starović points out that there is currently a new impetus in the realization of the Initiative, which is reflected in the ambitious goal to completely eliminate border crossings, physical borders, between the three countries that launched the Initiative, by 1 January 2023.
He stressed that the "Open Balkans" initiative is in no way in conflict with the aspirations of the countries and territories of the Western Balkans for EU membership, nor is it in conflict with other important initiatives for economic cooperation within the region.
"Each individual agreement signed within the "Open Balkans" initiative is open to other partners in the Western Balkans, and we really believe that others from the Western Balkans will join this initiative", Starović said.
According to him, the idea behind the regional and economic integrations, primarily the "Open Balkans" initiative, is to improve the social and economic position of the population of the Western Balkans, and to accelerate economic convergence with the European environment.
Starović also points out that there is a stronger and more open support of important actors from the international community for the "Open Balkans" initiative – primarily the United States, one of the countries of the Visegrad Four, which is of great importance.
"If there is some skepticism in some EU member states, it concerns the allegedly insufficient inclusiveness of the initiative. That is why we keep repeating that the "Open Balkans" is truly open and that our desire is for Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the provisional institutions of self-government in Kosovo and Metohija to join as soon as possible", Starović said.
When asked about the change of the name of the initiative, which was called "mini Schengen" until the end of July, Starović said that it was done in order to knock that last "weak card" out of the hands of opponents and critics of the initiative, who, lacking stronger arguments, pointed out that the name was inadequate and that it was imported from abroad or from the EU itself.
"If the internal borders were good for the economy, the EU would also have them, the very fact that borders do not exist in that sense is something that represents the guiding idea for us", says Starović.
Emphasizing that the "Open Balkans" initiative in no way contradicts the aspirations of the states to become EU members, Starović says that it can only be beneficial for the path on which everyone is progressing.
"Through the "Open Balkans" initiative, we will essentially all become one engine of growth for the European continent and thus more attractive to member states that are more skeptical about EU enlargement", Starović added.
He believes that the invited countries, which have not yet joined the initiative, will join even before many estimate, because, as he says, the very fact that a faster flow of people, goods, capital and services will be established is something that will be attractive both to citizens of Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
When it comes to negative reactions in the area of Kosovo and Metohija, Starović says that there is no economically based argument that would speak in the direction that there is no interest of Kosovo and Metohija to join the initiative.
"It is mostly about nationalist rhetoric, and every answer is the question of whether someone can really believe that the initiative is anti-Albanian", says Starović.
However, as he says, the latest political and security escalation in Kosovo and Metohija is not something that can be beneficial for the Initiative.
He also says that the strategic direction should be to try to isolate the existing political differences at all times and to define the topics on which there is disagreement, but to nevertheless realize the agenda of the future.
"We will not be able to solve some problems from the past in five or 10 years, but that is not a reason not to realize together the agenda of the future, the key element of which is regional economic integration", he said.
Starović believes that Albania's participation in the initiative will have an impact on the society in Kosovo and Metohija, and thus on political leaders, to be attracted to join the initiative, which will only benefit them.