Newsletter 26/2013 - Guest Commentator

Will Bartlett
Senior Research Fellow, London School of Economics

Regional policy-making through interactive dialogue - an effective way forward

Economic growth in South East Europe has been interrupted by both the global economic crisis and the deepening crisis in the Eurozone. In 2012, most countries in the region fell into renewed recession with serious social consequences. The lesson is that in the future the region will need to rely far more on its own resources than in the past, and also on greater regional cooperation. This will require emphasis on developing improved labour force skills and on increased social investments in the health of the labour force, in education and training, and in social protection in the face of sharply rising levels of unemployment especially among young people. In this environment, the need for improved social development policies calls for new approaches based on reliable research evidence.

In response to these needs, the Regional Cooperation Council’s (RCC) Social Agenda 2020 aims to provide a strategic framework for the Inclusive Growth pillar of the SEE2020 strategy, focusing on employment creation and social inclusion. Important themes of the this pillar to generate growth and jobs should be those of labour force skills, the social economy, health system reforms and the development of social protection and social inclusion systems especially for children, youth and older people, with an orientation towards promoting the active inclusion of disadvantaged people.

The Social Agenda 2020 for South East Europe has been developed over the last two years through a series of conferences on the topic of ‘New Skills for New Jobs’ in the Western Balkans. Through these conferences, the RCC has provided an invaluable platform linking current work in the areas of education, employment, research and innovation. The conferences, generously supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, were run in collaboration with the the London School of Economics’ European Institute  Research Network on Social Cohesion in South East Europe (LSEE) [1], a group of academic researchers from throughout the region working on these and related issues. The conference emphasised the urgent need to improve the regional capacity to anticipate and align skills provision and the important role in successful implementation of these policies that could be played by improved social dialogue and civil consultations.

The first conference, held in October 2011, discussed imbalances between labour demand and supply in the Western Balkan countries, with special attention to the importance of skills. Key themes that emerged from the conferences were the need to establish a regional workforce information system, to promote education, training and lifelong learning, and to facilitate local innovation in job creation policies and labour market development. At the second conference, held in July 2012, practitioners and policy makers shared their experiences of best practice in the analysis of skill gaps and in skills matching policies. Members of the LSEE Research Network presented research findings on skills and labour markets, while representatives of international organisations presented some of their latest research on labour markets and skills providing a significant input into the debate. The conference was a major step forward in RCC’s efforts in setting up a long-term social development vision and action plan for the region in line with Europe 2020 strategy.

The third conference, in November 2012, concluded the series. It reviewed the efforts of the RCC and the countries in the region to formalize a regional response to Europe 2020. It also reviewed the activities of key stakeholders in social development. The conference brought together representatives of governments, social partners, and researchers from the Western Balkan countries, as well as regional organizations and international institutions to exchange views on relevant themes. The LSEE Research Network presented a book on “Labour Market and Skills in the Western Balkans” based on papers first presented at earlier conferences of the RCC Social Agenda. Participants elaborated a ‘new skills for new jobs’ position paper and discussed a policy paper for the Inclusive Growth pillar of the SEE 2020 strategy.

Overall, the three conferences provided a substantial and significant input into the development of the SEE Social Agenda 2020 and have pointed a way forward for interaction and collaboration between practitioners, policy makers and researchers at a regional level. If ‘evidence-based policy-making’ is to be the practice of the future for enabling effective policies in important policy fields, then the RCC approach to regional policy-making through interactive dialogue in the context of the Social Agenda 2020 has certainly shown the way forward.

Dr. William Bartlett is Senior Research Fellow in the Political Economy of South East Europe at the LSEE research unit of the London School of Economics. His previous position was Professor of Social Economics at the University of Bristol. His book on “Europe’s Troubled Region: Economic Development, Institutional Reform and Social Welfare in the Western Balkans” was published by Routledge in 2008.


[1] LSEE Research Network in South East Europe background information available at



Will Bartlett, Senior Research Fellow in the Political Economy of Southeast Europe, The London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSEE), Social Cohesion Research Network (Photo: Courtesy of Mr. Bartlett)

Will Bartlett, Senior Research Fellow in the Political Economy of Southeast Europe, The London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSEE), Social Cohesion Research Network (Photo: Courtesy of Mr. Bartlett)