Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic proposed creating a Western Balkan customs union during his meeting with Austria’s Federal Chancellor Christian Kern on February 17, the government announced.
All the Western Balkans countries face the same challenges, such as weak economies and a prolonged transition period, and share the same goals, such as EU membership. However, the region is still an area of constant tensions, caused by still fresh memories of past wars and strong nationalist feelings. Regional coexistence and collaboration are crucial for stability, and all the countries are too small to develop economically except in partnership with their neighbours.
At the meeting with Kern, Vucic explained that the idea of the joint customs union aims to bring together countries and territories in the Western Balkans and facilitate the flow of goods.
“I already had first consultations with the Chairperson of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia-Herzegovina Denis Zvizdic and Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama and I will continue to talk to everyone in the region. The richer we are, the better it will be for us,” said Vucic, adding that it was his personal initiative.
Kern welcomed the idea. “It is about infrastructure projects that should connect the people and the region, and creation of a duty-free union, which I think is a good way to improve the situation in the region,” he said.
Pan-regional integration initiatives are relatively rare - one of the examples is the Sarajevo-based Regional Cooperation Council launched to speed up Euro-Atlantic integration - although there are an increasing number of cross-border cooperation efforts.
The entry of countries from the region into the Central Europe Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) has helped to encourage trade. CEFTA was originally signed between the Visegrad countries of Central Europe back in 1992, but its original members left as they joined the EU and the bloc has gradually migrated south; its current members are the ex-Yugoslavian countries except EU members Croatia and Slovenia, plus Albania and Moldova.
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