Saturday

25th Sep 2021

Opinion

Balkan 'Benelux' would speed up EU entry

Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro should join forces to build a new and permanent co-operation structure aimed at boosting their political and economic relations, with a final common goal of accelerating EU membership.

The EU calls on Balkan countries on an almost daily basis to increase regional co-operation and implement EU-set reforms. This should be encouraged. But existing regional forums are mostly informal and do little in concrete terms for regional or EU integration.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 'It is important to convince the international audience that this is not some kind of greater Albania' (Photo: agreei.org)

We believe it is high time for change and this is why we propose the creation of a Benelux-type structure bringing together Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro.

The new structure would give fresh impetus to preparations for EU membership and would help the four countries better compete with well-established EU economies once they join.

It would create a market of 8 million people with free movement of goods, services, capital and people as of end-2012, bringing immediate benefits instead of waiting for EU accession.

The agenda is ambitious. But there is no time to lose: people need growth, they need jobs and better living conditions - a reason to stay instead of seeking their fortune abroad.

The case is acute in Kosovo, the least developed of the four nations.

The sad truth is that EU accession might take a long time. Croatia achieved full territorial sovereignty in 1995 and is to join the EU in 2013. If we consider that Kosovo is today where Croatia was in 1995, we might envisage EU accession in 2030. That is too long.

The new structure should prioritise trade and customs facilitation, the fight against organised crime, local development of border regions, infrastructure, the environment, energy and the development a regional financial market.

It could start with an inter-governmental treaty between Albania and Kosovo, creating a technocratic secretariat to implement measures, and follow up with invitations for Macedonia and Montenegro to join.

It is important to convince the international audience that this is not some kind of greater Albania through the back door.

Such a secretariat could develop an integration agenda, screen government actions for compatibility and lobby them to stay on track.

It could also promote best practice - as with the success stories of e-procurement in Albania, the creation of an online land registry in Montenegro, business laws in Macedonia and police training in Kosovo.

The region already has its clubs: the Regional Co-operation Council based in Sarajevo and the so-called Seeto group for infrastructure projects based in Belgrade.

But the four neighbouring countries are a good fit - they are all highly competitive when it comes to attracting foreign investors and they have a different history and ethnic mix than Bosnia and Serbia in the north.

Kosovo's ever-growing trade deficit puts it at the centre of this project.

It recently won the right to export goods to and via Serbia. But it remains to be seen whether this will mean big volumes in the short-term. Diaspora remittances are drying up. Foreign investment is a pipe dream. Its small businesses need to access regional markets.

Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia can also serve as stepping-stones for Kosovo towards Italy, Greece and the rest of the EU.

Creation of joint corporations in several sectors between enterprises from different sectors of the four countries should also be encouraged.

As with the Benelux, the Nordic Council and the Visegrad club, their co-operation can and will continue even when thy become full members of the EU.

Joint challenges will remain

The southern Balkans will stay at the periphery of the Balkans and of Europe and will need friends who work hard to support them and try to attract attention and investors.

Despite the beauty of the Montenegro landscape, the white beaches of Albania, the historic monasteries of Macedonia and the natural treasures of Trepca in Kosovo, there is no automatic prosperity a-la-Kuwait waiting in the wings.

Development will be much faster if borders are put aside and economic co-operation, backed by EU and US support, becomes the four countries' top priority.

Gunther Fehlinger is a Austrian economist living in Albania and Ekrem Krasniqi is a Kosovo-born journalist living in Brussels

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

The protracted death of democratic Albania

How have Albania been allowed to deteriorate so far? The answer lies primarily with the country’s politicians, in particular Prime Minister Sali Berisha and opposition leader Edi Rama, who together have done more to destroy their country’s progress than any other post-Communist leaders in Europe, argues Dimitar Bechev.

The EU's 'backyard' is not in the Indo-Pacific

Europe is no longer an Indo-Pacific power. It will not become an Indo-Pacific power. And if it keeps overreaching its geopolitical ambitions, Europe might lose its credibility as a power - entirely.

Column

Long ago, there was another Angela Merkel

There is one female leader in European history whom Merkel resembles much more than the fiery, authoritarian Catherine the Great, who once staged a coup with her lover against her husband. Instead, it is the Habsburg empress Maria-Theresia.

The first anniversary of the Abraham Accords

More than 55 agreements between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain are currently underway. These lay the foundation for practical cooperation in almost all fields including: finance, communications, economy, culture, tourism, taxation, investment protection, freedom of movement, water, agriculture and energy.

News in Brief

  1. Italy arrests Puigdemont on Spanish warrant
  2. EU and US hold trade talks despite French wrath
  3. EMA to decide on Pfizer vaccine booster in October
  4. EU welcomes Polish TV-station move
  5. Ukrainian parliament passes law to curb power of oligarchs
  6. EU could force Poland to pay lignite-coal fine
  7. Report: EU and US concerned by tech-giants' power
  8. EU states sign 'transparency pledge'

Russia's biggest enemy? Its own economy

Russia's leaders have been fully aware of the reasons for its underlying economic weakness for more than two decades. Dependency on energy exports and the lack of technological innovation were themes of Vladimir Putin's first state-of-the-nation address back in 2000.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. Activists: 'More deaths' expected on Polish-Belarus border
  2. EU unveils common charger plan - forcing Apple redesign
  3. Central Europe leaders rail against 'new liberal woke virus'
  4. Yemen's refugees in 'appalling conditions', says UN agency
  5. VW emissions software was illegal, top EU lawyer says
  6. Sexism and the selection of the European Parliament president
  7. More French names linked to Russia election-monitoring
  8. Negotiations set for new, tougher, EU ethics body

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us