Thursday

19th Apr 2018

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • '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

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.

More commitment to renewables from Council, please

More and more consumers are likely to invest in solar panels in the future as it becomes simpler to produce one's own electricity, writes Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation.

EU should ensure sustainable Cohesion Policy

As the EU Council kicks off negotiations over the post-2020 budget, ministers have have an opportunity to create a framework that will unlock innovative financing and scale up the citizen-led clean energy transformation

How to reset EU-Burma relations

Europe should go back to its pre-2012 policy, wipe away aid and trade benefits, and tie democratic efforts to the reinstatement of benefits.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  2. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  3. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit
  4. Merkel and Macron meet to finetune eurozone reform plans
  5. Turkey snap elections set for 24 June
  6. Post-Brexit UK passports to be printed in France after all
  7. EU Parliament condemns Selmayr appointment
  8. EU trade commissioner: we are not offering US anything

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  2. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  3. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  4. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  8. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  11. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  12. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris

Latest News

  1. Draghi to stay part of secretive 'lobby' group
  2. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists
  3. Getting secret EU trilogue documents: a case study
  4. Selmayr case scars Parliament and Commission
  5. Beyond macho: Turkish-EU ties
  6. 'Flobert' guns - Europe's latest terror loophole
  7. EU investment bank confirms secrecy of VW fraud report
  8. More commitment to renewables from Council, please

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  2. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  3. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  4. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  5. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  6. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  7. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  8. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  9. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  10. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  11. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  12. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership