With little progress on their bids to join the European Union, Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania struck a deal among themselves to boost trade.
The three countries, with a combined population of 12 million, will allow visa-free travel for workers, ease border-traffic rules and strive to drum up investments.
They’ve all struggled to advance their paths toward EU membership. Serbia’s talks having slowed, while Albania and North Macedonia are yet to begin negotiations.
“We’re capable of taking care of our own future, taking our destiny in our own hands,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Thursday from the North Macedonian capital of Skopje.
Alongside that nation’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, and Albanian Premier Edi Rama, agreements were signed on canceling work permits and further facilitating trade in goods and services.
The move is a sign of rising frustration at the painfully slow road to joining the EU.
The countries “can’t wait for all the EU’s internal problems to be resolved so we, our citizens, our economy can move forward,” Zaev said. Failure to integrate the candidate nations would be “against the European idea, against the interests of the EU itself.”
The bloc maintains that inclusion of the entire western Balkans remains a priority, on condition that the hopefuls meet its criteria. The EU’s rotating six-month presidency is currently held by Slovenia, a former Yugoslav republic that wants to accelerate the expansion project.
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