I am proud the Open Balkan initiative has inspired hope in our region, which has always been burdened by friction and conflicts and, in the best of times, differences, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Friday, adding that the time had come to cooperate

“Like (Montenegrin PM) Dritan (Abazovic) said, we have tried all that and the only thing we have not yet tried is to cooperate and do everything to ensure better life to citizens. I think a good time has come for that,” Vucic told a press conference after an Open Balkan summit in Belgrade.

“Relative to the same period of last year, the number of trucks travelling between North Macedonia and Serbia alone has increased by 1,033 to 8,000. Trade with all countries of the initiative is up – which is in part due to higher values, but primarily due to an increase in trade – specifically, by 12.5 pct and 29 pct respectively, depending on the country,” Vucic said.

This suggests our companies and farmers know this initiative is one of great interest, he said.

Vucic also said a difficult winter was ahead and that it was important that Open Balkan member states had formed crisis groups for cooperation.

He said that, according to EU papers that had leaked, the bloc would be looking to help member states needing to purchase energy.

He announced the Western Balkans as a whole would seek support and partial assistance for purchases of electricity and request to become a part of the single EU system.

Albanian PM Edi Rama said the Open Balkan states – Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia – should request additional financial assistance from the EU due to the energy crisis and the upcoming winter, and announced that the three countries would set up a joint agency for foreign investment.

North Macedonian PM Dimitar Kovacevski said the participants of the summit had concluded that further work was needed on mutual cooperation and development possibilities.

This is an important day for the region because, together, we sent a message that states and governments are showing solidarity and that we will undertake activities to jointly address the crisis facing Europe as well as our countries, Kovacevski said at the press conference.

For us and for countries worldwide, the upcoming winter will be a long one and perhaps the toughest since WWII, he said.

It is better to go through that together than to do so divided, he said, adding that connectivity, solidarity and good-neighbourly relations aimed at achieving better living standards were the essence of Open Balkans.

The summit was also attended by Abazovic and Bosnia and Herzegovina Council of Ministers Chairman Zoran Tegeltija.

Abazovic announced that, despite not being a member of the initiative, his country would appoint a representative to an Open Balkan crisis group for food security and energy.

Tegeltija said he was pleased to have attended the signing of an agreement that would solve the problem of food supplies in the Open Balkan states, but added that he was sad because it had not been signed by a Bosnia and Herzegovina minister.

He said that, in spite of that, he was hoping Serbia would continue to ensure regular supplies of basic foodstuffs to the country he was representing.