A proposal that Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro join forces and through co-operation build a common future is quickly spreading in the region.
By Safet Kabashaj for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 01/08/12
Not all agree that four Balkan countries joining in close co-operation is a good idea. Nikola Poposki, Macedonian foreign minister, said there is no benefit for his country. [Reuters]
A proposal to have four of the region's countries join forces to build a "common future" to boost political and economic relations, with a goal of accelerating EU membership, has gotten the attention of the governments of Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro.
Gunther Fehlinger, Austrian economist, and Ekrem Krasniqi, Kosovo-born journalist from Brussels, presented the idea in the EUobserver.com.
"We are not proposing a new state, just closer co-operation in a structured manner, to build on the standard EU models like Benelux or Visegrad Four (V4), to improve the economy first and speed up EU integration," Fehlinger told SETimes. He said that Balkan Benelux 4 is based on equality, mutual respect, and recognition of states and borders.
One of the positives that would emerge from the initiative is economic co-operation, according to the proposal's co-authors.
"An economic and trade area of 8 million inhabitants is a good opportunity for the four countries to deepen their relations," Krasniqi told SETimes. In this way, he said, they will boost their economies and democracies to accelerate and better prepare for EU membership, and make them more competitive once in the European family.
The EU said that in the context of the western Balkans EU accession, regional co-operation and good neighbourly relations are important factors.
"The European Commission supports regional co-operation since it enhances exchanges among the countries, contributes to stability and good neighbourly relations," Peter Stano, spokesman for the EU Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, told SETimes.
Edmond Panariti, Albanian foreign minister, said his country favours free movement of people and goods.
"This initiative is directly in the interest of prosperity and further integration in the region, as a vector towards EU integration," Panariti told SETimes.
Pristina is also interested in close co-operation with the three neighbouring countries, Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj said, but is not sure if the Benelux model fits the current Balkan circumstances.
"I don't think that different models can be useful in different circumstances and periods. The only model, inspiration and admiration that Kosovo has is EU integration," Hoxaj told SETimes.
Nikola Poposki, Macedonian foreign minister, does not see a benefit for his country within the initiative. "Such a project is not logical because Macedonia doesn't have any interest in taking part of a narrow circle," Poposki told reporters.
Lumir Abdixhiku, executive director of the Pristina-based Riinvest Institute, said that to achieve such a goal there must be a positive will among these countries. Though in practical terms, the initiative could be useful, he said.
"At a given time all will have borders removed as EU member states, thus prior co-operation has advantages. They are small countries, which together could be attractive for potential investors," Abdixhiku told SETimes.
"In addition to economic benefits, these four countries do not have border disputes, recognition disputes, but a history of positive co-operation in the recent years," Adrian Shehu, an Albanian activist working for the initiative, told SETimes.