5 things to know about the Western Balkans

North Macedonia

UN Photo/Mark Garten North Macedonia flag raising for the first time at UN Headquarters in New York. The flag is alphabetically located between the flags of Nigeria (left) and Norway (right).

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Douglas Broom, Senior Writer, Formative Content

When leaders of the EU’s current 28 members gathered last month to discuss membership applications from Albania and North Macedonia, there was optimism that the accession process would be given a green light.

But a small group of countries, led by France, objected to starting detailed talks with the Western Balkan countries until the EU had been “reformed” – a decision that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker described as “a historic mistake”.

So what’s next for the Western Balkans? That will be the topic at a summit convened by the World Economic Forum in Geneva this week that is being attended by the leaders of the six Western Balkans nations: Albania; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Kosovo; Montenegro; North Macedonia; and Serbia.

Here are five topics that are likely to animate the discussions.

1. Growth and employment

The six nations are already stepping up cooperation efforts as they seek to close the economic gap with Western Europe. They have enjoyed steady growth over the last two decades. with average GDP per capita growing from just a fifth of the rate in Germany in 2000 to 29% today.

According to the World Bank, unemployment in the Western Balkans fell to historic lows in the first half of 2019, supported by strong economic growth in 2018.

Although falling, especially in North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the percentage of unemployment across the region remains in double digits. But the prospect of integration with the EU has led to labour market reforms in many countries.

Kosovo is the youngest country in the region, with more than a quarter of the population under 15. Employment remains extremely low, especially among women, with only 18% of women in the workforce.

2. Doing business

Data from the Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report shows improvements in the ease of doing business in the region. Business leaders surveyed for the report said the region’s main challenges were the low availability of venture capital and inefficiencies in some financial, labour and product markets.

Western Balkans Competitiveness Index vs EU nations
Image: World Economic Forum

Albania has made big efforts to reduce the time and cost necessary to start a business – just five days at a cost equivalent to only 11% of the yearly average income. Venture capital availability has also been increasing, although it remains low by international standards.

North Macedonia has made significant progress in helping startups, with costs cut to just 1% of average income and a process that takes about 14 days. Montenegro also has very minimal red tape to start a new business.

In Serbia, setting up a new business takes five days, costs 2% of average income and the country’s venture capital market has grown in recent years. At almost 1% of gross domestic product (GDP), research and development (R&D) spending is by far the highest in the region, thanks partly to growing foreign investment.

Image: World Economic Forum

3. Technology and the future of jobs

Although business leaders surveyed by the Forum were concerned by the region’s slow take up of advanced technologies such as robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), Montenegro has been a leader in the region’s technology development.

The government has been one of the most proactive in creating a long-term vision for the country with a strong focus on innovation. Business leaders rate Montenegro as having the best technology strategy in the region.

Image: World Economic Forum

Montenegro has led the development of the South East European International Institute for Sustainable Technologies, which is developing a state-of-the-art facility for using protons to treat cancer, in partnership with CERN.

Technology adoption in Bosnia and Herzegovina has increased significantly, earning it the status in the Forum’s Competitiveness Report of most improved country in the region between 2017 and 2019.

In Albania, collaboration between industry and academia on R&D has improved but remains at only 40% of global levels, according to the Forum.

What is the Forum doing on the Western Balkans?

Since January 2018, the World Economic Forum hosts an ongoing Strategic Dialogue on the Western Balkans. The aim of the high-level gatherings are to foster partnerships that advance regional integration and economic and social progress, to provide an impartial platform to discuss the challenges and opportunities that are shaping the region’s political and economic outlook, and to deepen intra-regional cooperation. Leaders from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, as well as key stakeholders in the region, meet at the Forum’s headquarters in Cologny-Geneva, Switzerland, on 8 November to continue the dialogue.

4. Infrastructure

The Forum’s Competitiveness Report highlighted “persistent weaknesses” in basic infrastructure, particularly railways and ports. Business leaders also called for improvements in legal systems, including greater judicial independence and the ability to challenge regulations and resolve disputes.

In particular, leaders want to see improvements in protection for intellectual property to encourage the uptake of emerging technologies by local companies. They also called for measures to allow new markets to emerge as innovation creates new products and business models.

The Forum’s 2019 Regional Risks for Doing Business Report found energy prices were the biggest worry in the region, ranking highest in Serbia.

“Even though prices in the region increased slightly, and in some cases fell in 2018, business executives in the Balkans seem very concerned about rising energy prices, as they are predicted to increase by up to 40% in 2019,” said the report.

5. The gender gap

Image: World Economic Forum

The region has made progress in closing its gender gap – particularly in education and health.

However, the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap report shows that sizeable gaps remain in terms of economic participation and political empowerment.

When it comes to the former, the region still lags behind Western Europe and the Central and Eastern European members of the EU.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

5 technologies that will forever change global trade

Tokyo 2020 Olympics: from cardboard beds to recycled medals, how the Games are going green

This company is breeding millions of insects in the heart of London

EU, Latin America and the Caribbean: Partnering for prosperity, democracy, resilience and global governance

‘Critical test’ for North Korea’s Government as civilian suffering remains rife, warns UN rights expert

‘Everyone needs to do more’ to help suffering Venezuelans, says UN Emergency Relief Coordinator

How close is Eurozone to a new recession which may trigger formidable developments?

Why a global recession isn’t inevitable

State aid: Commission opens investigation into proposed public support for Peugeot plant in Spain

Compensation for damages by the State for infringement of EU law: the European Commission refers Spain to the Court of Justice for its rules on the compensation for damages incurred by private parties

3 reasons why most Africans aren’t on the internet – and how to connect them

Court of Auditors: EU budget money is there to be spent not to create value

We must stop a devastating ‘battle to the end’ in southwest Syria, declares UN envoy

We need to talk about failure in the social sector

How music can help children with autism connect

How much more social deterioration can the EU people endure?

The scary EU elections result and the delayed Council’s repentance

A ship with containers at the port of Rotterdam. (Copyright: European Union. Source: EC - Audiovisual Service. Photo: Robert Meerding)

US follows the EU in impeding China market economy status in WTO

World Migratory Bird Day highlights deadly risks of plastic pollution

Libyan authorities must shoulder the burden to support country’s ‘vulnerable’ south

MEPs: Juan Guaidó is the legitimate interim President of Venezuela

Is it impossible to place the banks under control?

3 ways we are making an impact on plastic pollution

How income-sharing agreements can improve access to education

Ebola: EU provides an additional €30 million to tackle the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Climate Change Revolution: by-laws for the world

Living to 100: why we should plan for more sushi, chocolate and work

Parliament backs measures to cut e-commerce VAT fraud

Coronavirus: Member States agree on an interoperability solution for mobile tracing and warning apps

Coronavirus: Commission presents practical guidance to ensure continuous flow of goods across EU via green lanes

This Chinese megacity is building a massive car-free district

‘No steps taken’ so far to end Israel’s illegal settlement activity on Palestinian land – UN envoy

Postal workers in France are helping elderly people fight loneliness

Tuesday’s Daily Brief: sexual violence in conflict, a malaria vaccine trial, updates on Libya, Ebola in DR Congo, Sri Lanka and Mali

The technological revolution has changed the way of saving lives

10 technology trends to watch in the COVID-19 pandemic

Colombia: ‘Terrible trend’ of rights defenders killed, harassed; UN calls for ‘significant effort’ to tackle impunity

Spirit unlimited

Stop wars disguised as peace missions

A Europe that Protects: Commission calls for more efforts to ensure adoption of security proposals

This Kenyan company makes fuel from human poo

Coronavirus: Commission receives first preliminary application for support from the EU Solidarity Fund for health emergency from Italy

European Union: From financial consolidation to deeper political division

Romanian Presidency priorities discussed in committees

Why rich countries are seeing more poverty

UN gender agency hails record-breaking number of women in new US Congress as ‘historic victory’

How digital can transform healthcare in Asia for millions of people

MEPs call for concrete details and novel tools to address the economic crisis

‘Ground-breaking innovation’ needed in cities, where battle for sustainable development will be won or lost, says UN agency chief

The end of Spitzenkandidat: EU leaders concluded unexpectedly on EU top jobs

An enlightened response to COVID-19 can avert the climate emergency

Can the Notre-Dame fire freeze the ‘Yellow Vests’ uprising?

Changing how we produce and consume: New Circular Economy Action Plan shows the way to a climate-neutral, competitive economy of empowered consumers

Myanmar: Departing UN rights expert still hopeful for democratic transition

Ebola cases rising in DR Congo, but UN health agency cites progress in community trust-building

How companies can lead purposeful action in the skilling revolution

Lorenzo Natali Media Prize 2019: winners of EU’s development journalism award unveiled

We have solutions to crime. We just need to scale them

Venezuela: ‘A worrying destabilizing factor in the region’, Bachelet tells Human Rights Council

As north-west Syria violence reaches ‘horrifying’ new level, UN relief chief says ceasefire is only option

More Stings?


Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s