- From Brussels angle

INTERVIEW with Yngve Engström, Head of Regional Programmes Unit, Directorate General for Enlargement, European Commission, Brussels

Reforms important in all areas affecting business environment

Mr Engstrom, forging closer trade and investment links between the countries of South East Europe (SEE) remains a key priority for the RCC. How do you view the SEEIC going forward, and how does it fit into the overall landscape from the Commission’s perspective? 

I believe that the South East Europe Investment Committee (SEEIC) could play an important role in analysing, discussing and defining targets for economic development as well as the reforms and investments needed. This will help taking decisions that will create growth and jobs in the region as a whole, as well as in each country. 

Such reforms benefit the region in the first place, but also play an important role in meeting the requirements for EU integration and are necessary to fully benefit from the internal market. 

How relevant do you think would the SEE 2020 strategy be for the partners of the region and the European Commission in particular? Do you see a potential role of this process in planning national IPA programmes as well, given the renewed sectoral focus of the Commission?

The SEE 2020 strategy is a very good initiative as it gives a vision for the future. The work programme to be agreed under the SEEIC could serve as a driving force to help implementation. Full political support at national level and strong dedication to tackle structural issues at legislative and administrative levels will be required, as well as strong cooperation between different ministries, agencies and the business sector.

The Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) support can only be effective if the region assumes full ownership of the strategy and the actions required. Funding and technical support by IPA or other donors cannot replace the reforms and sound public administration.

How do you see this type of prioritization facilitating the interaction of the region with the European Commission (EC) and its external partners, and will it affect the targeting of pre-accession assistance? 

Cooperation within the region on setting priorities for investments and strengthening the competitiveness is very important for sustainable growth. It will help increase both trade within the region and with the European Union (EU) and external partners, as well as direct investments in the region. Cooperation across the borders is required in many areas to develop centres of excellence and innovation, reduce administrative costs and physical infrastructure. 

Reforms are important in all areas affecting the business environment, including good governance, corruptive practices and protecting intellectual property rights. Such issues will need to be tackled in all countries of the region. Regional cooperation to achieve growth and jobs may create additional incentives and benchmarking. Good or bad progress towards the targets will be recognised by the business sector in the region and in the EU.  

How do you see the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) in the context of intra-regional cooperation and cooperation of the region with external partners?  

The RCC is crucial both for intra-regional cooperation and for cooperation with external parties. While there are many regional initiatives at a sector level, RCC has an overall task to facilitate and strengthen cooperation among the countries in the region. It can therefore help explain to its members in the Western Balkans the key priorities for regional cooperation, why such cooperation is required as well as what benefits it can offer. Finally, the Council can also provide an overall follow up against targets agreed among the countries.

Yngve Engström is Head of Regional Programmes Unit at Directorate General (DG) for Enlargement of the European Commission (EC). Engström, a Swedish national, has worked for the European Commission since 1996. During this period, Engström has served as Head of Regional Programmes within the EC’s DG for Enlargement and Head of Section for financial and legal control of the EC’s financial cooperation with Turkey within the European Commission’s Delegation in Turkey. Before joining the EC, he served as a civil servant at the Swedish Ministry of Industry and Commerce, and as a Legal Advisor at the Swedish Competition Authority. Engström graduated from Law and Business Administration at Gothenburg University and holds Masters in Business and Public Law.


Yngve Engström, Head of Regional Programmes Unit, Directorate General for Enlargement, European Commission, Brussels (Photo: courtesy of Mr Engström)

Yngve Engström, Head of Regional Programmes Unit, Directorate General for Enlargement, European Commission, Brussels (Photo: courtesy of Mr Engström)