By Talha Ozturk
BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) - Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia on Thursday signed a joint declaration that included four key European Union freedoms.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Albanian and North Macedonian prime ministers Edi Rama and Zoran Zaev met in a trilateral meeting in Novi Sad city of Serbia.
These three Western Balkan countries found themselves a unique system that will allow for a better business environment, easier transport of goods and employment, as well as crossing borders, with an ID card only.
The leaders of the three countries called the remaining members of the "Western Balkan Six" and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo to join so-called "Small Schengen".
The leaders agree that this is a very significant deal that will economically strengthen the region in terms of more foreign investment.
Trucks in the Western Balkans lose 26 million hours every year on border crossings, Vucic said, adding that the removal of those barriers would enable huge savings.
"We aim to create conditions for people to use only national IDs for crossing borders by 2021," he stressed.
Vucic also announced the next meeting in North Macedonia, on the Lake Ohrid, on Nov. 10 when "the most concrete measures" would be agreed on.
Zaev for his part said that the four freedoms under which the agreement was signed are the basis on which the EU rests and that the Western Balkan countries have many untapped potentials.
"This initiative is a political step to relaxing relations in the region. The Balkans is no longer a 'gunpowder barrel' as it has been since the 19th century. This is a 21st century Balkans focused on peace, stability, economic development, integration and the improvement of quality of life," Zaev said.
Albanian Prime Minister Rama said there were some open issues at "the heart of the region," but that they should not prevent the agreements concerning the entire regional population.
"We must not be hostages to history and bureaucracy, we must do something for the future of our children," he added.
The first step, in this direction is the removal of border checks and free movement in the region as soon as possible, not later than 2021.
"People will be able to travel throughout the region with a valid ID. They should be able to work anywhere in the region if they are qualified. Diplomas should be accepted throughout the region. We will intensify co-operation against international organized crime and are ready to assist one another in cases such as natural disasters," said the joint declaration.