European officials are floating an idea that may give small and sometimes struggling Balkan economies a greater foothold in today's global markets.
Some are talking about the concept of a common market for the Western Balkans to include countries such as Serbia, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Montenegro.
The prime ministers these countries attended a summit that is generating more discussion about the viability of a common market in the region.
European Union Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn has been vocally supportive of the common market idea in the past few months, claiming that such a move could add nearly 100,000 new jobs in the region over the next eight years.
“Our ambition is to remove barriers and create a single space for economic development,” Hahn said in a public press statement in March. “It will also make clear a longer-term aim of integrating the Western Balkans common market into the EU’s internal market.”
“These are pretty small countries,” Gary Patterson, who runs a United States-based consulting business called FiscalDoctor, told Balkan Business Wire.
He promoted the idea that a common market could give the individual national economies more clout.
“Learn from what worked well for the E.U. — take the good parts, and throw away the bad — to reach a larger economy," Patterson said.
Despite past political and social conflicts, countries in the region could profit from looking ahead, Patterson said.
“There is a value to forging a common purpose today, and letting past issues go,” Patterson said, suggesting that a common market approach could lead to a stronger economy and jobs for new generations.
This new cooperation is easier said than done. Recent reports of nationalistic messages on international trains are just the tip of the iceberg of conflicts that have been simmering for years. Still, better economic cooperation could work in the favor of all parties and at least start to tamp down tensions.