Western Balkans countries agreed on Thursday (4 April) to lower and eventually abolish roaming charges, in a rare act of neighbourly goodwill in region riven with political feuds.
Starting in July, the deal will cut roaming charges by 27% across Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
The plan is to then “completely” abolish the charges by 2021, according to announcement from the Serbian government.
Home to some 17 million people, all of Western Balkans countries except for Albania were once part of former Yugoslavia, before it fractured in the 1990s through a series of wars that left 130,000 dead.
The EU-backed accord was signed at a digital summit in Belgrade and welcomed by enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn, who tweeted “Great news…as of July you #RoamLikeAtHome”.
Great news (finally!): as of July the #WesternBalkans citizens and companies will pay significantly less #roaming fees for surfing, texting & calling across the region. As of July 2021, you #RoamLikeAtHome #digitalagenda4WB pic.twitter.com/ox95pL0vHw
— Johannes Hahn (@JHahnEU) April 4, 2019
Unlike a similar 2014 agreement, this one includes Albania and Kosovo, a former Serbian province whose independence Belgrade refuses to recognise 20 years after they were split by war.
Already poor relations between the former war foes took a nosedive last November when Kosovo levied a 100 percent tariff on Serbian and Bosnian goods in political protest.
Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said signing the roaming accord was “not easy at a moment when Pristina violates regional agreements”.
But she said the country was “sending a signal to give a chance to the region to be prosperous and to have different future”.
Valdrin Lluka, Kosovo’s Economic Development Minister hailed the “very good news for Western Balkan countries”.
“I believe that this agreement is another step forward towards enhancing regional cooperation between the Western Balkan states,” he said in a statement.
All of the Western Balkan countries aspire to join the European Union, with Serbia and Montenegro the furthest along in the process.
A plan to get rid of mobile fees between the EU and Western Balkan countries was announced at a May 2018 summit in Bulgaria.