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Soft connectivity and the Western Balkans

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Soft connectivity and the Western Balkans

Boosting integration and infrastructure in the region

Soft connectivity and deepening the economy the integration between the six Western Balkan countries dominated the agenda of yesterday’s meeting Third Western Balkans Investment Summit.

Of opening speech by President of the EBRD, Sir Suma Chakrabarti Following remarks from the six prime ministers during the panel on the “Soft Connectivity Agenda for the Western Balkans,” the topic was a recurring theme of the event.

Investments in transport and energy systems, as an engine of growth and job creation, have been a priority for European policymakers since the leaders of the six Western Balkan countries first met at the EBRD in 2014 .

However, it was clear that physical infrastructure alone would not achieve the desired results. It is equally important to implement soft measures and harmonize regulations that remove administrative barriers and obstacles to regional connectivity.

A panel dedicated to the theme of soft connectivity, chaired by the Pierre Heilbronn, EBRD Vice-President for Policy and Partnershipsbrought together some of the leading advocates of soft connectivity in the Western Balkans: Ana Brnabić, Prime Minister of Serbia; Christian Danielson, Director General of European Neighborhood Policy and EU Enlargement Negotiations European Commission; Marko Čadež, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Chamber Investment Forum; Linda Van Gelder, Director for Western Balkans, World Bank; and Goran Svilanović, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council.

Panelists agreed that a key element of soft connectivity is the creation of a single investment space, which involves harmonizing legislation, removing trade barriers, improving links between markets capital and strengthening the business climate in the region.

In practice, this would translate into a single regional economic space, an ambitious idea that was endorsed by regional leaders last year at the sixth World Bank summit in Trieste and is now taking shape.

THE European Union strongly supports soft connectivity for the Western Balkans, as it is seen not only as an engine of economic growth, but also as a means of ensuring peace and stability in the region.

“There is no doubt about the European perspective for the Western Balkans region,” said Danielsson. “Am I optimistic? I absolutely am. Major positive steps are being taken and we need continued political support and pressure from Western Balkan leaders to continue achieving these goals.

Customs and trade regulations are a major problem for businesses. However, within the framework of the new Regional Economic Space, emphasis should also be placed on improving regional mobility and developing digital integration.

The first concrete project towards digital integration is the implementation of Regional Investment Platform, officially launched during the summit. The online tool, developed by the regional chamber of commerce, the Chamber Investment Forum with support from the EBRD, will provide a one-stop shop for foreign investors interested in the Western Balkans.

Countries are making progress in promoting regional mobility. “Next year we plan to start discussions on the recognition of diplomas and professional qualifications within the region, as well as with the EU,” Mr Svilanovic said. “This would help increase the mobility of people within the region and also with the EU. »

“The only drawback of European integration for us is the brain drain,” Ms Brnabic said. “We already have a problem, and it’s only going to get worse, and to combat it we need a lot more investment.

“We are investing in education. For example, we are launching introductory coding programs in primary schools and increasing enrollment in technical universities. We need to move from an investment-driven economy to an innovation-driven economy. And for that, we will have to invest in human resources.”

Mattia Romani, EBRD Managing Director for Economy, Policy and Governance argued, as an economist, that the numbers speak for themselves. “Investors want to go to big markets,” he said. “A single economic space in the Western Balkans means a larger economic space, higher productivity, more opportunities and more jobs.”

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