Newsletter 27/2013 - Our South East Europe
Regional initiatives at the forefront of South East Europe’s economic growth
South East Europe (SEE) has experienced the fourth year of economic crisis during 2012 and the outlook for 2013 remains negative. The Western Balkans region remains one of the hardest hit regions in Europe with real GDP slipping back into the negative records during 2012, with the projected growth rate of -0.3% at the end of the year.
To address some of the issues and in accordance with the mandate received from the SEECP and the European Commission, the South East Europe Investment Committee (SEEIC) of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) has further advanced the preparation of a regional five-pillar strategy for growth – South East Europe 2020 (SEE 2020) that is to be agreed on and adopted by the end of 2013.
With this goal in mind the RCC has developed partnership relations with 45 regional initiatives that have been relevant source of information and analysis in the wider process of identifying gaps and opportunities in regional cooperation. All of the regional initiatives are expected to play a role in further development of the SEE 2020 strategy and to be a part of its implementing structure.
“The Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA 2006) Joint Committee of 2012 in Tirana welcomed the initiative of SEEIC to agree on a number of headline targets for the regional economic growth”, says Renata Vitez, Director of CEFTA Secretariat.
Vitez explains that the CEFTA Ministers had also emphasized the importance of trade policy, as a core component to achieving economic growth in an integrated and inclusive manner.
“The CEFTA structures together with SEEIC are leading programming and will take over the implementation of the integrated growth pillar of the Strategy.”
The success in trade liberalisation and facilitation, which is a direct mandate of the CEFTA, could only be complementary to countries’ international competitiveness and their potential to attract foreign investment, she further elaborates.
“The objective of the Integrated Growth pillar is to create deeper regional trade and investment linkages and policies that are non-discriminatory, transparent and predictable and enhance the flow of goods, investment, services and persons within the region.”
Zada Muminovic, the Head of Unit for Trade Relations with European Integration at the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, adds that the integrated growth pillar stipulates key dimensions and components (free trade area; competitive economic environment; and integration into global economy) that are inter-related and mutually reinforcing.
"They are all directly incorporated into 15 chapters of the aquis, and indirectly in some more, reinforcing a direct link between regional and European integration of the Western Balkan countries.”
Muminovic is of the opinion that the ambitious goals of all five growth pillars of SEE 2020 are feasible only through joint actions of all partners involved in the process, primarily the EU structures, by coordinating implementation of the strategic EU documents and the ones of countries from the region as well as by adequate use of all resources during the entire implementation period.
The South East Europe Transport Observatory (SEETO) as a regional transport organisation plays a vital role in the process of transport and infrastructure development in the SEE.
“Improving the quality of services and transport efficiency, alongside with the infrastructure development of the SEETO Comprehensive Network is the primary point of reference when it comes to the transport as one area within the resource efficiency dimension pillar of the SEE 2020 strategy”, says Nenad Nikolic, General Manager of SEETO Secretariat in Belgrade.
“One of the strategic priorities for transport for the entire region is to reduce the transport barriers and bottlenecks, as well as to improve the regional interconnections, in order to attract the regional, European and international commercial traffic flows.”
Nikolic underlines that it is expected that the SEE strategy 2020 actions would guide the development of co-modal solutions with rational distribution of modal share towards more environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient transport modes, such are the railways and inland waterways.
“I strongly believe that SEE 2020 can foster sustainable development of the region in this period of stringent economic measures. Transport should be the driving force in that respect.”
Being smart in gaining more with available investments is a way to go, according to Nikolic, and “this is exactly what the resource efficiency pillar dimension in interactions with the other dimensions will do”.
Agriculture and rural development as important aspects of regional cooperation are also tackled by SEE 2020. Regional cooperation in this field is functioning under the Standing Working Group for Regional Rural Development in SEE (RRD SWG), an inter-governmental organization, explains Boban Ilic, Secretary General of the RRD SWG from Skopje.
“The participating countries through SWG would like to see more prominent role of the agriculture and rural development in SEE 2020, which could contribute to the overall foreseen objectives of the strategy.”
In addition, Ilic explains, agriculture sector combined with processing industry in general covers around one fifth of the all regional economies i.e. contributes to approximately 20 to 25 percent of the GDP of the SEE countries.
“We believe that agriculture and rural development in the SEE 2010 strategy should not be seen as a cross-cutting issue but rather as one of the major pillars in the structure of the document.”
Economic growth and job creation are to a great extent subject to lifelong entrepreneurial learning. Efka Heder, Director of SEECEL from Zagreb reminds that the Charter for Entrepreneurial Learning: the Keystone for Growth and Jobs”, a document signed by South East European Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (SEECEL) members during the Regional Ministerial Summit in October of 2012 re-confirmed the full support to the systematic development of lifelong entrepreneurial learning.
“The Charter has laid the foundation for regional areas of action such as: entrepreneurship promotion across all levels and forms of learning systems, progress through partnership, entrepreneurship promotion in third-level education and links to innovation and reinforcing networks, sharing of good practice and peer learning.”
Consequently, explains Heder, the Charter priorities could be easily transferred to the SEE 2020 strategy, as they have wider perspective.
“As a member of SEEIC, SEECEL is actively taking part in the development of the SEE 2020 strategy, with special emphasis on the inclusive growth pillar/sub-pillar ’Skills and Inclusive Education’, where SEECEL has a role of a dimension coordinator.”
By pulling their resources together in order to obtain benefits of the interdependence between neighbouring countries, the existing SEE initiatives are to continue working towards the fulfilment of the SEE 2020's basic goal - to improve living conditions and bring back in the region’s focus competitiveness and development of each country and the entire region.
 Information about CEFTA 2006 Parties and the Agreement available at the CEFTA website http://www.cefta.int/
 Information about SEETO available at SEETO website http://www.seetoint.org/
 Information about RRD SWG participating countries available at RRD SWG website http://www.seerural.org/about-us/members/
 Information on SEECEL members available at SEECEL website http://www.seecel.hr