A truck driver driving a tomato from Albania to Serbia is certainly satisfied and calm while waiting for two days at the border to be issued a new phytosanitary certificate, even though he has already received one in Tirana. If he had smoothly crossed the border to Serbia, it would have meant that his country had already been swallowed up by the Greater Serbia project. His colleague from Serbia, who drives goods in the opposite direction, must be relaxed while waiting for two days to enter Albania, because if he had passed without delay, it would have meant that his Serbia has already become part of Greater Albania. And that driver from Bosnia and Herzegovina certainly has nothing against waiting, even if it takes three days, to enter Serbia, because it should not be faster until they face the war crimes of the 90s in Serbia.
It looks like a caricature, but this fictional stream of thought of the three truckers is, in fact, only a small cross-section of “arguments” against the Open Balkan, coming from serious politicians, prominent people from the NGO sector and commentators. The Open Balkan project has experienced that its challenges have reached the level of caricature, and that is bad.
If they could not or did not want to understand what it was about at the beginning, these critics had enough time, two and a half years, to study the Open Balkan and correct their bad predictions. And since many did not do that, then it means that from the beginning we have been dealing only with hurt vanities, politics and bad intentions.
The Open Balkan was approached in the Balkans with a typically Balkan mind-set – what is wrong with it, why it is not good for us and what someone else wants with it, to our detriment. We can even understand that. It was quite shocking, for the Balkan circumstances, when Aleksandar Vučić, Edi Rama and Zoran Zaev signed an agreement two and a half years ago in Novi Sad – on cooperation! Not about stopping the bloodshed, or about redrawing the borders, which would be normal for the Balkans, but about abolishing the borders and mutual support for their economies. What was even more shocking was that the agreement was not brought to them by anyone from Brussels or another big world, but they came up with it and wrote it themselves.
This is the root of the panic that arose over the new Balkan economic integration. What was said about the Open Balkan in the past two and a half years will hardly be surpassed by the most imaginative conspiracy theorists. Since it is impossible to repeat, often not even understand, we will try to group everything into several main “clusters”, which have survived to this day.
Open Balkan has no chance of success – It is obvious that there is, it’s the third year since it was launched, the founders are in constant communication and working together, and in half a year, on January 1, the “machine” will be put into operation. From then on, goods, people and services will cross borders without delay. Until then, the three countries are doing complicated work and synchronizing their regulations, which will remove the ramps at the crossings.
Open Balkan is a consolation prize for EU membership – On the contrary. The Open Balkan is accelerating the movement of each of its members towards the EU, because it connects them according to European criteria. The Open Balkan is nothing but a “transplant” of the European principle of open economy and its four freedoms of movement (goods, services, capital and people) to Balkan conditions. How can belonging to a small, Balkan open market, tailored to the European model, before entering the EU, disturb European integration of anyone in the Balkans?
Open Balkan cannot exist if not everyone is in it – Obviously it can. Why would someone’s non-membership prevent someone else from belonging to the project and working on it? This is one of the “dirtier” remarks about the Open Balkan, most often coming from established European think tanks and their research “stars”, who cannot accept that the Balkans are capable of doing something good and useful without being ordered to do so “from above”. It is true that the Open Balkan consists of three states, but the European Union did not have 27 members when it was founded, but six and no one rejected it because “it was not complete”. The UN did not have 193 members when they were founded, but 51 and no one complained that they could not be successful, because they are not complete.
Open Balkan is the return of Yugoslavia through the back door – So where does Albania come from? How can Aleksandar Vučić, a conservative from Serbia, be among the initiators of the project, when, since he has been involved in politics, you could not hear him regretting the SFRY and advocating its renewal?
Open Balkan is a trick of Serbia, which opens the door for Russia’s influence – A very common “argument” among Montenegrin authors and politicians, meaningless from the very beginning, and especially since the Russian aggression on Ukraine. Not only can Russia no longer trade with the Open Balkan, it can no longer trade or communicate with the open world.
Open Balkan is a project of Serbian hegemony – It is most often heard in Pristina, but without explaining the question – if that is already the case, why is Albania in the Open Balkan? The same anger reigns among the radical opposition in Albania, so its supporters burned the Serbian flag in Tirana in December and demonstrated against one of the regular meetings of the Balkan trio.
Open Balkan is part of the Greater Albania project – An argument of the same essence as the previous one, with the difference that it is used by nationalists in Serbia. Simply, no chauvinist group in the Balkans can accept the Open Balkan, because it leaves them without a job. Because it does not pile up weapons along the borders, near the neighbours, but abolishes and deletes those borders.
Open Balkan is unnecessary, we have CEFTA and the Berlin Process – This is often said by Balkan experts from the EU, and repeated by local opponents of the Open Balkan, but without answering the simple question – What are the effects of previous projects to connect the Balkans, including CEFTA and the Berlin Process? There are none, there are only perpetual bureaucratic structures, salaries, expenses, daily allowances for European officials and analysts, the Balkans are not particularly important here, so despite all these initiatives, it is still blocked, closed and underdeveloped. The Berlin Process was Angela Merkel’s child, her attempt to comfort EU aspirants from the Balkans at a time when the EU (Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker) has announced that there will be no enlargement in his term. Behind the project, as the only visible and tangible, is the Youth Office in Tirana, one in a series of futile Euro-sponsored projects aimed at second-class people from the Balkans.
And behind the whole list of what the Open Balkan is not, just a few words are enough to explain what it is. And in that simplicity is the main secret of its huge chance to be successful. The Open Balkan is an exclusively economic project, it facilitates trade between members, removes barriers, allows the workforce to move and employ freely, for investments to go where it is more convenient, goods and services without delays at borders. And nothing more than that. This invention raises each of its economies by as much as one third (Oliver Varhelyi). There is no other project, no integration that can increase the economic strength of the Balkan countries.
Therefore, it would be reasonable to slowly put an end to all these doubts, and especially to the torpedoing of the Open Balkan, which has so far arrived from various sides, both from the Balkans and beyond. This is a healthy, European economic integration, the effect of which can have historical proportions. It is also a “cure” for other, hereditary Balkan diseases, which do not directly affect the economy, but draw their destructive power from it. Time does not work for those who are outside the Open Balkan, membership is not an obligation, but it is an economic necessity. After all, there is no important international factor, from the EU to the United States, which has so far not openly supported the new Balkan initiative and invited everyone to join it. The Open Balkan could show its vitality and attractive strength of integration in June, when Montenegro’s decision to join this project is possible. That would be a good step, useful first of all for the economy of Montenegro, and then for its Balkan partners, who are waiting for it with open arms.