- In focus

BALANCING AMBITION WITH REALISM by Sanjin Arifagic, Head of Economic and Social Development Unit, RCC Secretariat

For much of the past few years there has been an ongoing discussion in South East Europe (SEE) on whether there is a need for a more coordinated, regional response to the ongoing crisis. In the EU that issue was settled early on – the block has developed a number of strategies in the past three years (Europe 2020, Danube region, Baltic Sea states) with differing geographical scope, but a constant ambition – higher but more sustainable growth, alleviated poverty, greater integration. South East Europe in general and the Western Balkans in particular have seemed content to pass upon this opportunity of having a more strategic approach to possible joint objectives and developing some common actions to reach those objectives. The past few months however have changed this for good.

The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) has been engaging its partners and stakeholders in regional vision-building efforts as early as 2009. The original idea was to assess the current state of affairs in the economies in the region and map out a path of convergence with the European Union (EU), by utilizing the synergies that could be harvested over the long term. The impact of the economic crisis, which has pushed unemployment rates upwards throughout the region, ranging from 12% in Croatia to 31% in The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, has only hastened this process.

Another important catalyst for South East Europe has been the Europe 2020 Strategy that provided a possible anchor for regional strategic thinking; constant calls from outside the region to develop “a regional recovery and development strategy which should follow the main parameters of the EU 2020 strategy”, as the conclusions of the June 2010 High-Level Meeting on the Western Balkans noted, have helped the RCC and regional experts garner the necessary political support to rally around the subject.

At the same time, the region was engaged in discussions on the transfer of the South East Europe Investment Committee (SEEIC) – a preeminent regional body for discussing investment-related policy reform – to the RCC Secretariat. It soon became apparent that SEEIC could become vital to our governments in coming together around a set of regional strategic objectives. During 2011, these broad objectives were outlined in the South East Europe 2020 Vision that was endorsed by the Ministerial conference last November.

The Ministers have also set out a new mandate for the SEEIC, one that is firmly anchored in the SEE 2020 Vision and the accompanying process. The smart, sustainable and inclusive growth dimensions were enriched with two other, region-specific dimensions: integrated growth (aiming for greater integration of regional markets) and governance for growth (providing a framework for building administrative and institutional capacities and fighting corruption). The SEE 2020 process envisions governments committing to a set of quantifiable regional political targets that are then transposed into policy objectives and measured through agreed indicators for signs of progress. A set of interventions would also be developed to guide the implementation of these objectives. SEEIC has thus become the first vehicle in the region to engage in the SEE 2020 Vision building and has taken political commitments that the RCC and its members intend to pursue going forward. This approach was confirmed by all SEEIC members and included in its Work Programme adopted at its 24-25 April meeting in Sarajevo.

As beneficial as this framework is for the region, it provides clear advantages for our partners as well. Whether it is the EU or other donors, the SEE 2020 will provide a transparent platform for identifying areas of greatest need as well as those of common interest enabling us to join forces in economic development initiatives. Finally, regional initiatives and structures can associate their activities and governance more closely with this process in an effort to deepen and strengthen cooperation, provide better insight into national level reforms and secure translation of policies. The RCC and the SEEIC now stand at the forefront of a new era of regional cooperation in South East Europe.

Sanjin Arifagic heads the Economic and Social Development Unit at the Regional Cooperation Council Secretariat. In his current capacity, Arifagic provides strategic leadership to the organization’s involvement in private sector development, investment-related reform and social development. Before joining the RCC, he was a managing director of a boutique investment bank operating in the SEE region. He has also worked as a business development officer and project manager at the IFC/The World Bank group and a consultant for IBM Management Consulting Services and PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has worked extensively with both public and private sector clients in the area of privatization, restructuring, corporate governance and financial advisory.


Sanjin Arifagić is Head of Economic and Social Development Unit. (Photo: Scan TV)

Sanjin Arifagić is Head of Economic and Social Development Unit. (Photo: Scan TV)