The Financial Times writes about the Vučić - Zaev - Rama meeting: "Waiting for Godot"

Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia will launch their own zone for travel and business without borders amid frustration over Brussels, Financial Times reports.

Source: B92

The leaders of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia have criticized Brussels for its slow EU enlargement, promising to continue with its own travel zone and business zone while waiting for the bloc to receive them.

"We know that there is fatigue from EU enlargement," Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said in an interview.

"We need to see what we can do for ourselves, what we can do for our people, how we can expand our markets."

Zoran Zaev, the Prime Minister of North Macedonia, expressed frustration that "the EU is not fulfilling its promises", adding: "We must accelerate the practical benefits for our citizens".

Edi Rama, the Prime Minister of Albania, compared the work with Brussels with the play by Samuel Beckett "Waiting for Godot", in which two men engage in a series of often absurd conversations while anticipating the arrival of someone who never comes.

The Balkan "mini-Schengen" travel and business zone, modeled on the EU's free travel arrangement, will be officially unveiled on Thursday. It will include a gradual easing of travel restrictions, faster "green lanes" at borders, reduced waiting times and easier access to work permits.

The paper states that it hopes that the zone, which Vučić said should be created before the end of the year, will eventually include Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also remain open for the disputed Kosovo.

The Serbian leader said the Balkan region could no longer wait for the EU to unite, faced with ethnic and religious conflicts and economic failure since the break-up of the former Yugoslavia after 1991.

Countries need to make significant progress before the EU accepts them, such as electoral, judicial and economic reforms, but they also feel the official path has become too cumbersome.

Vučić came to power on a pro-EU platform, but, like his colleagues, they looked at the bloc with growing frustration, the paper states.

The goal of the mini-Schengen zone was to change the narrative of the region, both internally, in order to alleviate ethnic tensions, and externally, to appeal for EU membership and greater investments, said Vucic.

"When people have higher salaries, they will think about better lives, and not about the shadows of the past," he explained.

Zaev's North Macedonia changed its name, respecting the sensitivity of the Greece, EU member, but he said that Brussels "betrayed" the region.

North Macedonia joined NATO last year, shortly after the name change, but the EU has yet to open accession talks with the country.

"The ultimate goal is to join EU," Zaev said.

"But until the EU decides, we must find ways to continue the process of Europeanization."

Rama said that they are pushing forward without other Balkan states "to set an example and not get stuck in a small caricature of the EU, where you need consensus for everything and everyone can veto".

The European Commission, which is leading the process of assessing progress towards EU membership, said it supported efforts to integrate all six Western Balkan countries into a common regional market, reflecting the EU's single market and applying the bloc's rules and standards.

"The ultimate goal, EU accession, has not changed," a commission spokesman said. As for the slow approach in joining the EU, the commission said it called on national governments to move forward with Albania and North Macedonia "as soon as possible".

The two countries were due to start EU membership talks last year, but Bulgaria is still blocking the move. Even if negotiations begin, the political appetite for EU enlargement is very low in the bloc's powers, especially since German Chancellor Angela Merkel - a supporter of Balkan integration - is leaving after the September elections.

All three Balkan leaders noted that the United States, while waiting for the EU, gave full support to their efforts. "The Balkans we have today are perhaps the brightest - if not the only shining - example of the U.S. foreign policy," Rama said.

"The freedoms we enjoy today in the Balkans are, above all, their work."

Analysts also warned that over time - North Macedonia, and before that Macedonia, has been an EU candidate for 18 years, Serbia - nine and Albania - seven, meaning that the attractiveness of other potential partners could grow.

"Apart from China and Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are also active in the region," said Ivan Vejvoda, an associate at the Institute.


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