On Friday morning, the leaders of the Open Balkans Initiative gathered in Belgrade for the Open Balkans Summit. Heads of states and diplomatic delegations from the Open Balkans member states, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania flocked to the Serbian Palace for a full day of high-level meetings and signing ceremonies.
The host of the summit, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic opened the joint press conference with a warm welcome and promise of solidarity among the members of the Open Balkans initiative. The President expressed his pride over the Wine Vision trade show, a celebration of the food and wine from Serbia, North Macedonia, and Albania that opened on Thursday. Novak Djokovic, the tennis world No.1, was also in attendance.
The tone presiding over this high-level gathering of the Open Balkans’ leaders was one of urgency but also of shared hope. The leaders discussed some of the region’s and the world’s biggest and most pressing problems, such as shortages in food and energy.The Open Balkans members expressed their commitment to join forces to overcome a winter they say will be “tough.”
Edi Rama, PM of Albania, said he’s optimistic about the memoranda that have been signed but added that there is so much more untapped potential for the Open Balkans. He went on to discuss, in the vein of untapped potential, his idea to create an investment agency that would be under the umbrella of the Open Balkans.
PM Rama warned that the Western Balkans won’t be excused from the worldwide power shortage. “This winter is likely to be the hardest we have encountered,” he said.
Rama sounded the alarm that it was likely, during the winter, that electricity would be turned off after 10 PM, on the streets and in shops, bars and restaurants. Painting a gloomy image of winter ahead, Rama said, “life may be closing down.” More shutdowns, like the ones instituted during the pandemic, threaten the region: this time, to “save electricity.”
“You can have money to buy energy, but no energy to buy,” said PM Rama, as he called upon the EU not to repeat the “shameful behavior” that took place during the pandemic, when the EU closed down for anyone outside their political class and only looked “within the walls of their own castle.”
PM Rama took an opportunity to speak briefly of the need for Emmanuel Macron’s “European Political Community” for non-EU countries. He revealed that the leaders are drafting a letter to the EU asking to be included in financial aid packages for energy problems.
“I really hope that we are heard,” said Rama.
PM of North Macedonia Dimitar Kovachevski said that the Open Balkans summit marked an important day for the region.
“We are here today to send a message that the states come together in solidarity to take action to tackle the crisis facing Europe.”
Kovachevski echoed his fellow leaders that the incoming winter will be a “long” one.“It is better to survive together, than alone,” said Kovachevski.
The Open Balkans member states, Kovachevski revealed, discussed food security and agreed to help each other if they face any shortage in domestic markets.
Kovachevski spoke of renewable energy, implying that this is something that can be used and further developed in the region.
The Montenegrin PM, Dritan Abazovic, who came to the Open Balkans summit as a guest, said that he saw many happy faces at the Wine Vision trade show opening and felt “good vibes.” Abrazovic spoke about the significant problems facing the region. He predicted that the world energy crisis may continue into spring 2023.
PM Abazovic said that while Montenegro is not a full member of the Open Balkans initiative, his country would like to join the Open Balkans group for the energy crisis.
Given the future challenges that were the focus of much of the summit, the tone struck by the assembled leaders was comparatively light, stressing the positive outcomes of the Open Balkans initiative and emphasizing promising areas for future action.
It will be a long, dark winter in the Balkans, but it is one the neighbors can brave together.