Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro sign free travel agreement

28/12/2011

Citizens of three Balkan countries now have access to mutual free movement with biometric ID cards.

By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 28/12/11

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The foreign ministers of Macedonia and Albania, Nikola Poposki and Edmond Haxhinasto, attend the December 14th meeting where they, along with Montenegrin counterpart Milan Rocen, signed the free movement agreement. [Reuters]

At the meeting of the Adriatic Charter Countries in Tirana on December 14th, Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro signed an agreement allowing citizens of all three countries to travel with a passport and biometric ID cards to and from the respective countries.

Albanian Foreign Minister Edmond Haxhinasto said these agreements will facilitate and encourage the movement of people, strengthen ties and co-operation among the countries, while creating a new regional climate in preparation for full EU integration.

"It is a very important development because we are taking actual steps in creating a free movement zone in the region, as an expression of excellent…co-operation which will continue in other areas. Great political co-operation is reflected in specific steps in economic integration among our countries," said Haxhinasto.

His Macedonian counterpart, Nikola Poposki, emphasised the boost it will bring to bilateral relations with Albania.

"This is a specific step that will increase opportunities for co-operation between our two countries and facilitate border crossing, in order to accomplish the integration goal, facilitate movement of citizens, and increase a shared commitment of our two countries -- EU integration," said Poposki.

Montenegrin Foreign Minister Milan Rocen added "This agreement [with ID cards] will make life easier for our citizens on both sides of the border, businessmen and tourists. We share a history, the present, but also a common future towards the EU."

Those living along Albania's border area welcomed the agreement the most, as they have family and cultural ties with neighbouring towns and villages in Macedonia and Montenegro.

Dhimiter Bushati, a fisherman from Shkodra, makes weekly visits to the markets of Podgorica or Ulcinj. He told SETimes that this agreement means less to worry about while travelling.

"Before, you could not travel to Montenegro without a passport. Now, though I have a passport, I feel happy because I always feared losing it or something like that. Now, with an ID card it is, of course, easier because my children who do not have passports can accompany me. Montenegro for me and my family is an important market," says Bushati.

Albert Vangjeli, an expert on EU integration, told SETimes this is a good step, but not enough to achieve a full integration among the regional countries.

"It is somehow absurd that the countries in the region want to join the EU, but are not fully integrated among themselves. The Schengen zone means no border, and at this point all regional countries would not give up border control," says Vangjeli.

He added that implementing the agreements poses no security risk to any country.

"The agreements enable movement just with biometric ID cards, which means if someone has an old card, they will not be able to cross the border, [eliminating] security concerns of forging a fake ID or something similar like that, while police co-operation with Macedonia and Montenegro is running smoothly," Vangjeli told SETimes.

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Kosovo is expected to sign the same agreement with Macedonia and Montenegro says Alber Gashi, an EU integration expert in Pristina. He told SETimes that the free movement agreement with Serbia supports it.

"We had this agreement for many years with Serbia. The Brussels free movement agreement enables ID card travel, and now an attached letter [is required] which is not yet decided upon. Now is the time for Kosovo to start negotiating with Macedonia and Montenegro over the issue," says Gashi.

Last year, during the Migration, Asylum, Refugees Regional Initiative Chairmanship, Albania suggested the idea of creating a free movement zone among member states, the so called "Balkan Schengen Zone", encouraged by the positive experience of ID cards use as a means of travel to Kosovo. The same agreement is soon expected with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

With the agreements, Albania has enabled its citizens to travel with ID countries to all its non-Schengen zone member countries, while the government announced it will negotiate a possible ID cards travel agreement with EU member countries.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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