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Western Balkans

As EU accession talks stall, Balkan states move towards creating a mini-Schengen

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At the end of the summer, the leaders of Serbia, Albania and Northern Macedonia signed a trilateral accord that could be seen as the building block of a regional agreement similar to what the Schengen Area represents from most of the EU, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

Called the Open Balkan initiative, the idea of forming a common market for countries awaiting EU membership was even previously known as the Mini-Schengen Area.

Basically what the agreement stands for is an initiative based on trade and freedom of movement of goods and citizens and equal access to labor markets, exactly what EU’s Schengen Area is for.

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Estimates show that member countries would save up to $ 3.2 billion (2.71 billion euros) each year, according to World Bank estimates.

There has been a similar initiative in the past called the Berlin Process which focused on the future enlargement of the European Union. The Berlin Process was initiated in order to consolidate and maintain the dynamics of the EU integration process in light of increased euroscepticism and the five-year moratorium on enlargement announced by then Commission President Jean Claude Juncker. Alongside some EU member states, the Berlin Process included six Western Balkan countries that are candidates for EU membership -Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania- or potential candidates -Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo.

The Berlin Process was spearheaded and kick started in2014 by Germans designed as mentioned for the countries of the Western Balkans, which never culminated in a binding agreement. Seven years later, the countries in the region are trying to show that they can do things on their own, with or without EU help.

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Speaking about the mini-Schengen taking shape, Serbian Prime Minister Vučić said that "it is time to take matters into our own hands and decide for ourselves about our destiny and future" and boasted that "from 1 January 2023, no one will stop you from Belgrade to Tirana".

In a similar fashion, Albanian Prime Minister Rama said in Skopje that the measure was meant to prevent the Western Balkans from getting stuck in a "small EU caricature, where for anything you need consensus and everyone can block everything through a veto."

However, without including all six Western Balkans nations in the agreement, there could be new divisions in the region.

The biggest issue is of course Kosovo, which Serbia does not recognize as an independent state and claims that its former province - geographically located right between Serbia, Northern Macedonia and Albania - is in fact part of its territory. Kosovo declared independence in 2008 after NATO's 1999 intervention led to the withdrawal of Belgrade-controlled forces from the ethnic Albanian-majority province. Kosovo leaders have criticized the creation of a mini-Schengen in the region, the initiative spearheaded by the Serbian PM.

Furthermore, issues that still affect the Western Balkans, such as growing nationalism, have led Bosnia to be ambivalent about joining an initiative led by a Serbian PM. Montenegrin leaders, such as Milo Đukanović, are also not sold on the agreement.

Yet the Open Balkan initiative might not be consolation enough for Balkan nations still waiting to join the EU.

Western Balkans

‘We want the Western Balkans in the European Union, there can be no doubt’ von der Leyen

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The EU-Western Balkans summit ended this afternoon (6 October) in Brdo, Slovenia, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen asserted, “we want the Western Balkans in the European Union, there can be no doubt”, except that there seems to be plenty of doubt.

European Council President Charles Michel representing the heads of government was more frank about divisions within the EU: “There is no secret that there is an ongoing discussion among the 27 about  the EU’s capacity to take on new members.” He linked the doubts to what the European Union’s future ambitions were and the debates happening within the framework of the Conference on the future of Europe. 

Again, Michel was surprisingly honest about one of the principle problems, the EU is already struggling with adherence to the rule of law within the European Union. As the heads of government were meeting the EU’s court of justice, published a further judgement finding that Poland was in breach of its fundamental rules on the independence of the judicial system. 

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EU leaders agreed on the Brdo declaration, with which the Western Balkans partners (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia and Kosovo) have aligned themselves. 

The statement “reaffirms the EU’s unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans and welcomes the commitment of the Western Balkans partners to the European perspective, which is in our mutual strategic interest and remains our shared strategic choice,” which falls some way short of timetable for enlargement.

The most likely contenders for enlargement, North Macedonia and Albania, are coupled meaning that they can only commence negotiations at the same time. Bulgaria has said it will block North Macedonia membership over a dispute over language, which means that it could block enlargement. 

The Bulgarian president Rumen Radev set out his conditions to lift its veto threat. He said that they are working on a bilateral protocol, to be presented in November, which will need to be approved by the parliament. He said he would like to see amendments to the North Macedonian constitution to recognise the Bulgarian minority and objective results from the ongoing census. 

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EU Summits

EU leaders to restate membership guarantee for Balkans at summit, officials say

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European Union leaders will be able to restate their guarantee of future membership to six Balkan countries today (6 October) at a summit in Slovenia, after EU ambassadors overcame divisions, two EU officials said, writes Robin Emmott.

After weeks of disagreement over the wording of a summit declaration for Wednesday's gathering of EU and Balkan leaders, envoys from the EU's 27 states reached a deal to "reconfirm ... their unequivocal support for a European perspective," the official said.

Reuters reported on Sept. 28 that the impasse over the declaration was seen as a reflection of the lack of enthusiasm in EU capitals for bringing Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia into the bloc.

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A second EU official said that while there was now agreement on a summit declaration, the EU's strategy of enlarging its community south-eastward faced obstacles, even if officially the door is open to those who meet the membership criteria.

"I can't say everything is fine," the official said, noting reluctance among some member states to see further enlargement of the bloc. "There are of course many issues but you also can't say the door is closed."

EU states have declined to disclose their positions on the summit declaration negotiations, although Slovenia, which holds the EU presidency, sought to include a commitment that the bloc take in the six Balkan states by 2030, according to a draft seen by Reuters.

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The second EU official said that had not been successful.

Wealthy northern countries fear a repeat of the rushed accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and the poorly managed migration of eastern European workers to Britain that turned many Britons against the EU.

Bulgaria is against North Macedonia joining because of a language dispute, meaning even with the summit declaration's approval, diplomats do not expect any progress soon.

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Artificial intelligence

Distinguished leaders from Boston and Balkan regions to collaborate for Global Law on AI and Digital Rights

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Two distinguished organizations from the Northeast United States and the Balkans, Boston Global Forum (BGF) and Nizami Ganjavi International Center (NGIC) have announced a collaboration to promote pioneering initiatives related to a Global Alliance for Digital Governance. The initiative, which was the subject of a recent Policy Lab online forum, also involves the United Nations Centennial Initiative, AI World Society (AIWS) and the Club de Madrid.

The joint announcement states that BGF will support NGIC’s Global Enlightenment Education Program in Baku, as well as a number of other initiatives.

BGF and NGIC will exchange resources to develop initiatives to solve complex and controversial issues in the world today and shape the future for “Remaking the World – Toward an Age of Global Enlightenment.”

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Under the agreement, the BGF and NGIC will join in promoting the Global Alliance for Digital Governance (GADG), and NGIC will connect governments of Balkan and Middle East nations to support the Alliance. The two organizations will recommend speakers, promote conferences and forums, and publicize joint events.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, Co-Founder and CEO of the BGF, hailed the agreement and noted its impact on expanding the Alliance: “NGIC will bring a high level of engagement and distinguished leaders of the Balkans, contributing to the creation of a Global Law and Accord on AI and Digital Rights, and discuss the Accord at significant conferences that NGIC often organize in many cities as New York, Beijing, Riga, Athens, Andorra, Cairo, Sarajevo, Sofia, Brussels, Missions in Kiev,

Tel-Aviv, Amman, Istanbul, Bucharest, which are attended by many head of states and government leaders.”

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 About the Boston Global Forum

The Boston Global Forum (BGF) offers a venue for leaders, strategists, thinkers and innovators to contribute to Remaking the World – Toward an Age of Global Enlightenment.

In 2019, the Boston Global Forum, in collaboration with the United Nations Academic Impact, launched the United Nations Centennial Initiative. It began with the release of a major work titled “Remaking the World – Toward an Age of Global Enlightenment”. More than twenty distinguished leaders, thinkers, strategists, and innovators put forth unprecedented approaches to the challenges that lay before the world. These contributors include President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Governor Michael Dukakis, Father of Internet Vint Cerf, Former US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Harvard University Professors Joseph Nye and Thomas Patterson, MIT Professors Nazli Choucri and Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, and MEP Eva Kaili.

The BGF introduced core concepts that are shaping groundbreaking international initiatives, most notably, the Social Contract for the AI Age, AI International Law and Accord, the Global Alliance for Digital Governance, the AI World Society (AIWS) Ecosystem, and the AIWS City.

 About the Nizami Ganjavi International Center

Nizami Ganjavi International Center (NGIC) is an international, non-political organization dedicated to the memory of the great Azerbaijani poet, Nizami Ganjavi and to the study and dissemination of his works with a mission to build a dialogue, understanding, mutual respect, tolerance between cultures and peoples for building functional and inclusive societies. Nizami Ganjavi International Center’s main mission is to promote Learning, Tolerance, Dialogue, Understanding and Shared Societies in a world in many ways today facing unprecedented challenges.

Board members of NGIC include the former presidents and prime ministers of the Balkan area and Northern European leaders from Finland, Latvia, Belgium, the United Nations, and distinguished figures from the U.S.

For information about the recent Policy Forum, visit

· Media kit for Policy Lab

· Registration for Policy Lab

· About the Boston Global Forum

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