- Our South East Europe
INTERVIEW with Teuta Arifi, Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, Skopje
Regional cooperation in joint projects is beneficial for economic growth and political stability in South East Europe
Ms Deputy Prime Minister, what are the main measures your government is implementing to support the private sector, specifically in the area of investment attraction and retention and small and medium enterprises development?
Ensuring continuous improvement of business environment and support of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), as the main driving force for economic growth and job creation, especially in the developing countries, is one of the main economic priorities of the Government of my country. Through structural reforms, activities have been undertaken and a lot of efforts have been placed in order to set the preconditions for a successful entrance of foreign investments and creating favorable business climate for the prosperity of the private sector. The establishment of flat tax rate, implementation of the regulatory guillotine for abolition of the barriers that the businesses are facing, modernisation of customs procedure and the benefits offered by the Government in technological and industrial zones are viewed as unique benefits for potential investors.
Moreover the Government’s economic policy is mainly focused on implementing measures that have direct impact on increasing the competitiveness of the economy, support of entrepreneurship, innovation, export promotion and attracting foreign direct investments. In this respect, the national Strategy on the Industrial Policy is being implemented since 2009 as a proactive policy whose goal is to create economy based on knowledge and to increase the competitiveness of the economy. The areas of intervention that are identified are related to the development of SMEs and entrepreneurship, eco innovation, clustering, internationalization and stimulation of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as well as applicable research, development and innovations. Implementation of the measures that will eventually lead to the fulfilment of the priorities is a continuous process.
I believe that the progress in undertaking the structural reforms clearly shows the commitment of the Government to create an economy that will be able to cope with the competitive pressures on the global market.
How effectively do you think the countries of the region are using regional cooperation to advance economic growth and development?
The economies of the countries in the region are well connected via trade and, more often in the recent period, investments and joint projects in infrastructure and energy. In respect to the latter, the possibilities offered under the European Union (EU) Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) Regional Development Component as well as the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF) provide substantial stimulus for this cooperation to continue and deepen.
Personally, I see such regional cooperation in joint projects as clearly benefiting not only the economic growth, but also political stability throughout this part of Europe.
All of the countries in the region have specific national development targets and strategies to help guide development over the long term. Do you see such targets being articulated at the regional level?
The countries in the region share one common priority which is a full-fledged membership in the European Union. This is a long term priority which also requires economic reforms with respect to meeting the Copenhagen economic criteria. I believe that the countries in the region need to demonstrate their dedication and commitment to reach the goal of EU membership by creating policies that are in line with the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, inclusive and sustainable growth. I strongly believe that the perspective of my country, and the countries in the region need to be developed based on the goals and priorities of the Europe 2020 Strategy for growth and employment. As we share a common vision to become part of the European family, we need to act in this respect, be proactive and deepen our cooperation. For us, as a small and open economy, the regional factor of economic development is of crucial importance for growth and I believe that the geostrategic position of the countries of Western Balkan also plays important role as a key chain for the unity of the European market.
Where do you see most support needed in development of the private sectors in the region?
The private sector, more specifically the small and medium size enterprises are considered to be the backbone of every economy. Therefore, the national Governments of the countries in the region need to take further efforts in order to establish and maintain an environment where entrepreneurship will prosper and the conditions for doing business will be further improved. I believe that one of the main challenges that the companies are facing, not only at regional but at European level, is also the access to finance. Measures need to be taken in order to facilitate the access to finance for enterprises which will be used for financing growth and innovative projects. I think it is very important to have investments in innovation and its promotion, creating new, competitive products that will create growth. In addition, it is important for the Governments to focus on creating new jobs that can generate growth as well as to promote and support clustering, which have a regional and international context. There are many challenges for the policy makers but it is important to maintain the dialogue with the private sector in order to achieve the desired results.
Teuta Arifi is Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, Skopje. Prior to that, Arifi has performed numerous duties at the county’s Parliaments since 2000, such as: Member of the Parliament; Head of the Foreign Policy Committee; member of the Delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe; Head of the Committee on Culture; Head of the Foreign Policy Committee. Arifi holds a Ph.D. in philology from Ss Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje. She has been member of the Joint Board and Associate-Professor on Multicultural Issues at the Teacher Training Faculty of the SEE University, Tetovo (since 2001), and assistant-professor of History of Albanian Literature, at the Faculty of Philology at Ss. Cyril and Methodius University (sine 1997).