Experts and businesspeople suggest that Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia merge markets.
By Lindita Komani for Southeast European Times in Tirana -- 02/10/13
Experts and officials from Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Austria met in Tirana last month to discuss the idea for creating Balkan Benelux. [Action Group for Regional Economic and European Integration]
Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro are trying to revive the idea to form a Balkan "Benelux" that would also include Macedonia, and merge these countries' markets to create economic benefits that they cannot achieve individually.
The idea was discussed in detail at a conference in Tirana in mid-September, initiated by Action Group for Regional Economic and European Integration (AGREEI) and the Albanian Liberal Institute (ALI).
"The goal is to shift the perception from the one where only politicians change politics to the one where changes are made based on public demand," according to Adri Nurellari, co-founder and director of ALI.
The Balkan Benelux would build on the successes of the Albania-Kosovo free trade agreement, which considerably increased trade between them, said Arben Ahmetaj, minister of economic development, trade and entrepreneurship of Albania.
"Achieving a Balkan Benelux is a kind of luxury and the countries need to be prepared from a structural point of view to be able to cope with it," Ahmetaj said.
Bojana Boskovic, deputy finance minister of Montenegro, agreed.
"Montenegro's main goal in the past several years has been to increase the country's competitiveness in light of the bad foreign assessments related to its market size," Boskovic said.
As stand-alone markets, no one country is high on investors' lists; the obvious solution is to integrate them, said Mark Crawford, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Albania.
"When considering markets, investors will ask about GDP, growth, population size, among other things. The reality is that these numbers, when looked at separately for each of the four countries, are too small to attract consistent attention from major investors," Crawford told SETimes.
Crawford explained each country is now most often viewed as a bonus rather than a primary market.
"Albania might be viewed as a bonus market for an investor from Italy or Greece. Kosovo is probably in the weakest position, surrounded by bonus markets and by Serbia, with which relations are strained," Crawford said.
Experts and businesspeople stated while statistically investment gravitates toward market scale, trade gravitates toward proximity.
"It seems the unification of the Kosovo-Albania economic market is on the way, and the invitation to join should remain open to Macedonia and Montenegro, which are of similar size, exposed to very similar challenges on their way to joining the EU," Gunther Fehlinger, AGREEI co-founder and board member that had initiated the Balkan Benelux idea last year, said.
Macedonia has previously reacted against the Balkan Benelux idea, saying it has already concluded free trade agreements with all European countries and does not want to limit itself to a market of 8 million consumers.
The Balkan Benelux will foster EU integration of the four countries, complete with a co-operation treaty with the creation of a Balkan Benelux as an international institution by 2017, according to Adrian Shehu, co-founder and president of AGREEI.
"The Balkan Benelux model is not an alternative to EU or NATO integration, nor it concerns change in borders, but is firmly based on EU models," Shehu said.
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