Kosovo leaders oppose a Mini-Schengen idea for Western Balkans

Kosovo leaders are opposing the idea of a Mini-Schengen area for the Western Balkans, discussed this weekend at a regional summit in Ohrid, North Macedonia. Media report that the Mini-Schengen is seen in Kosovo as an initiative that undermines its statehood.

Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev, Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama, President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina Denis Zvizdic signed a joint declaration pledging to cooperate and eliminate barriers to the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital.

President of Kosovo Hashim Thaci said he refused to participate in the summit for several reasons: “Firstly, Kosovo was intentionally overlooked by Serbia in the first summit of this new regional initiative. Second, Kosovo’s only vision remains membership in the EU and NATO. Therefore, we do not want under any circumstances to replace our Euro-Atlantic integration with any regional initiative. And finally, this regional initiative is meaningless for as long as Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina don’t recognize the independence of Kosovo.”

Thaci said on a Facebook post that Kosovo remains committed to good neighborly relations and removal of barriers to the free movement of people and goods but noted that “it cannot be part of such a summit attended by countries that still do not recognize the reality of an independent Kosovo.”

Leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) Isa Mustafa also came out against the idea of a mini-Schengen saying it leads to the creation of a new Yugoslavia. “At first glance, it looks like an attractive project but in essence leads to a new Yugoslavia, with Albania and without Croatia and Slovenia. These are ideas we have not supported while we led the government and we will not support it as a Democratic League of Kosovo, whether we are in the government or the opposition,” Mustafa wrote on Facebook.

“Kosovo should aspire to a unified European market, initially based on SAA that also regulates customs and become part of the Schengen Agreement, where the EU countries are.

The Mini-Schengen idea emerged when the project designed in Serbia on a Customs Union and Western Balkans Economic Union failed because of the opposition from Kosovo and Montenegro.

“With this agreement, we would pass over our sovereignty to neighboring countries because, as it is known, the Schengen implies unified policies of member states for free and uncontrolled border crossings and this would also apply for Serbia’s Mini-Schengen and the supporters of its hegemony,” he added.

Albanian PM Rama criticized Kosovo for refusing to take part in the summit. He said the fact that Serbia and Bosnia have not recognized Kosovo did not prevent it from taking part in other regional initiatives and signing agreements with European representatives.

“There is no reason for Kosovo to exclude itself. Self-exclusion without a reason does not bring anything good for Kosovo at a time of a very heated conflict over the tariff,” Rama said and announced that the next meeting will take place on 21 December in Durres.

President of Serbia Vucic meanwhile rejected claims the initiative is an attempt to create a new Yugoslavia. He said that the idea is to encourage regional cooperation to enable a better life for citizens of all Western Balkans.

“There is no talk here about creating a new Yugoslavia,” Vucic said adding that free movement of people and goods would save money and time for all citizens.