November 19, 2020

Former President of Montenegro on video conference on the Western Balkans
Former Montenegrin President Filip Vujanović participated in a video conference dedicated to relations in the Western Balkans, co-organized by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP), the Nizami Ganjavi International Center (NGIC), and the Foundation for Share Society and Values (FSSV). Besides the former President of Montenegro, other participants to the conference were Zlatko Lagumdžija, former President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mirko Cvetković, former Prime Minister of Serbia, John Connorton, Secretary of the NCAFP, and Matthew Niemec, former Special US President Bill Clinton’s envoy for mediation in the name dispute between Greece and North Macedonia. The video conference’s moderator was Susan Eliot, president and director of the NCAFP.

The topics of the video conference were the fate of the so-called Mini Schengen initiative in the light of the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans presented in October and concrete proposals for cooperation in the upcoming period between the Western Balkan countries on their path towards European Union.

Concerning the first topic of the video conference and the Mini Schengen initiative’s fate, former President Filip Vujanović stated that Mini Schengen’s idea is a thing of the past and became unnecessary last Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, co-chaired by Bulgaria and North Macedonia. The European Union’s relationship with the Western Balkans has been given a clear and strong framework through the Berlin Process initiative. This initiative was launched in August 2014 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A month earlier, she participated in the Brdo-Brioni Initiative Summit in Croatia. At this Summit, Chancellor Merkel and presidents of the Western Balkans, Croatia and Slovenia expressed a clear expectation of more robust and more concrete European Union support for the Western Balkans.

After many years of cooperation and numerous summits of the Western Balkans and the EU leaders, the Berlin Process received a clear direction at the Summit in Sofia on November 10, 2020. Two Declarations were adopted at the Summit: on the Common Regional Market and the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans. By committing to the Common Regional Market foundation, the Western Balkan countries’ leaders have committed themselves to cooperation in common trade, digital, investment, innovation, and industrial space. Indeed, the above-mentioned facilitates and accelerates people’s free movement and the movement of capital, goods, and services with the advantage of digital connectivity. All these values have been put into a function to remedy the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with the Declaration, an Action Plan for its implementation was adopted, with established obligations and deadlines. Montenegro will undoubtedly be a reliable partner in respecting these essential agreements between the EU and the Western Balkans.

One can state that thanks to the Berlin Process and the European Union, the obligation to constitute the Common Regional Market was accepted, which includes everything that was the ambition of Mini Schengen, determining a much broader content of cooperation than envisaged by Mini Schengen. The initiative had a good goal - a stronger regional connection of the Western Balkan countries. Still, it’s creators chosen a lousy way to achieve that goal because, at the same level and immediately, it had to include Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. Concluding the first part of the discussion, former President Filip Vujanović stated that the constituted Common Regional Market is a solid framework and a strong chance for further regional integration.

The former President of Montenegro pointed out the numerous possibilities that the recently presented European Commission’s Economic and Investment Plan provides to implement the Common Regional Market idea. This plan designs an excellent opportunity to enhance regional cooperation in all fields, primarily through more solid infrastructure and energy connectivity, which along with digital transformation, is a crucial segment of improving the Western Balkans’ business environment and a chance to attract foreign investment.

Speaking on the European and Euro-Atlantic perspective of Montenegro and the region, former President Vujanovic reminded that Montenegro is a credible member of NATO. Montenegro has made the greatest progress towards the EU membership path among Western Balkans, with all chapters opened and three temporarily closed. He also stated that without Western Balkans, the European Union could not be successful as an idea nor will be fulfilled project. President Filip Vujanovic recognized the need to fulfill previously agreed obligations and better implementation of contracted projects as crucial elements for strengthening the Western Balkans’ European perspective and fostering regional relations. He concluded that Western Balkan countries must be more focused and proactive when approaching the implementation of already contracted projects whose goal is to strengthen the ties within the Western Balkans.

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