Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania Push Forward On 'Open Balkans' Initiative

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (left), North Macedonia's prime minister, Zoran Zaev (center), and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama pose for photographers after signing documents during the Skopje Economic Forum on Regional Cooperation on July 29.

SKOPJE -- The leaders of Serbia, North Macedonia, and Albania have moved forward on a regional border-control initiative -- changing the name of the project from Little Schengen to Open Balkans.

The new name was announced on July 29 after a meeting in Skopje between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, and North Macedonia's prime minister, Zoran Zaev.

The Balkan leaders agreed at the meeting to abolish border controls between Serbia, North Macedonia, and Albania from January 1, 2023, Vucic said.

Leaders of the three countries committed to creating the initiative in October 2019 -- calling it Little Schengen after the European Union's border-free zone.

They said at the time that it would help boost economic recovery and foreign investment and create the Balkans of the 21st Century.

The proposal has been supported by the European Union and the United States.

Vucic previously emphasized that the goal of the initiative was to make life easier and improve living standards for the citizens of the three countries.

After the name change was announced on July 29, he said one of the advantages of the Open Balkans will be travel from Belgrade to Tirana without stops for border controls.

The three countries will be "stronger together," Vucic said.

They will be able to combine efforts on things such as the control of organized crime while maintaining their independence and sovereignty, he said.

Zaev and Rama called on other countries in the region to join the Open Balkans initiative -- saying it was an opportunity to strengthen cooperation, their economies, and freedom of movement.

Vucic, Rama, and Zaev also took part in Skopje in a forum for regional economic cooperation where they signed agreements on the movement of goods, access to the labor market, and cooperation in disaster protection.