The National Assembly House hosted the conference “The Open Balkans – A Path toward Stabilisation, Cooperation and Prosperity of the Region”. The conference started with a minute of silence for the victims of the bus accident of 23 November 2021 in Bulgaria which claimed the lives of 42 citizens of North Macedonia, and the two workers killed in the explosion in the factory in Lestane. On behalf of all MPs and on himself, MP and founder of the Serbian-American Friendship Congress Dr Vladimir Marinkovic extended condolences to the President of North Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski and Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Dimitrov and the people of North Macedonia
In his welcome speech, National Assembly Speaker Ivica Dacic stressed that, in a short time, the Open Balkans has shown itself to be a complete success, that it is the best and right answer to the authentic needs of our citizens and our countries.
"We have come a long way from the Novi Sad declaration to date. In the early days, there were many more people who challenged this regional initiative than those of us who stood behind it. There was talk in the region, as well as in Europe, laced with pessimism and resentment, saying that the "Open Balkans" is a consolation prize for EU membership, that it is the creation of a new Yugoslavia, that the existing regional projects are enough and we do not need another one. I am glad everyone was wrong. This is no Yugoslavia, this is no consolation prize, only a huge job we have done so far and a project that will change the face of the Balkans. This is the first time in 30 years that an initiative to better connect our economies and our people has a chance to succeed," stressed Dacic.
He reminded the attending that the goal is for the measures to remove the economic barriers between our three countries and open the doors for the implementation of the four freedoms of the European Single Market, to come into force at the beginning of 2023.
"Such an image has not existed in the Balkans so far. Instead of disintegration, which we are unfortunately known for around the world, the Balkans will be a space of great and essential integration in the unhindered flow of trade, investment and labour force. This is a historic opportunity and I am sure we will take full advantage of it. To of all those still reluctant to join in, I want to say that the door is wide open and there is no reason not to enter the "Open Balkans", concluded Speaker Dacic.
Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said that, besides European integration, regional connection, security and stability is an equally important foreign policy priority for Serbia. She said that the "Open Balkans" initiative is not only a nice political idea, it is also the most pragmatic policy for Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania, and expressed hope that other countries in the region will recognise it and join the initiative. A safer region, great economic benefits and a different perspective for young people are the most significant advantages offered by the "Open Balkans" initiative, Ana Brnabic concluded.
US Ambassador to Serbia H.E. Anthony Godfrey also addressed the attending, taking the opportunity to highlight the partnership between the US and the Republic of Serbia and emphasise the importance of economic integration of the region for achieving common goals. He spoke of the 140 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, stressing that, today, economic cooperation is the central aspect of relations, in which the essence of a common vision of the future lies. "Serbia's membership in the European Union is a strategic goal for Serbia and the US main goal as regards Serbia. The US fully supports the region's continuous efforts to coordinate and integrate economically," said the Ambassador. He added that the goal of this initiative is of vital importance for Serbia and the region in terms of sustainable economic growth and the ability to keep citizens in the country by attracting new sources of high quality investments. He said that this initiative would help conduct the difficult but necessary reforms required for EU accession. "Together with our European partners, we welcome Serbia's commitment and deepening of economic integration based on EU rules and standards, i.e. prioritising sustainable investment in infrastructure and energy," said Godfrey.
The conference included a political panel, presentation of the results of the regional public opinion survey and the results of the economic analysis of the "Open Balkans" initiative, as well as a businessmen panel on the economic effects of the initiative.
Nikola Dimitrov, Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs of the Republic of North Macedonia, Edi Rama, Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania, Gabriel Escobar, Special US Envoy for the Western Balkans, Jovan Kovacic, EWB President and founder, member of the Executive Committee of the Trilateral Commission and Chairman of the Serbian National Group of the Trilateral Commission, and Vladimir Pejic, managing partner of the Factor Plus Agency and founder of the Serbian - American Friendship Congress, addressed the attending during the panel.