Regional cooperation as an investment in the future of the Western Balkans and Europe

Dusko-Knezevic 4

The Berlin Initiative and the current refugee crisis have shown that the Western Balkans are an essential factor for the present and future stability of the EU. We, as a region, are in the best position to recognize the most effective ways for our association, and if they are properly valorised, we can become an important aspect of the European reality.

Currently the region is at the centre of attention and it presents us with the right opportunity to put such a vision into motion. Furthermore, in that same context, the upcoming conference that the Chamber of Commerce of Montenegro is organizing in cooperation with the Serbian Association of Economists, and the Association of Economists of Montenegro, is a very concrete step towards intensifying economic cooperation and identifying optimal models to strengthen regional competitiveness.

Montenegro and Serbia are one of most logical examples of such interdependence and the impact it has on the prosperity of both countries. Montenegro mostly imports from Serbia, for example, cars manufactured in the Fiat factory in Serbia, which travel to Italy, come across the Belgrade-Bar railroad and the port of Bar. In addition, upon the completion of the power cable between Italy and Montenegro, electricity produced in Serbia for the European market will be exported via Montenegro. Through strong ties with Montenegro, investors from the UAE have also entered the Serbian market and are now very important for the economy of this country. Tourism represents 20% of the GDP of Montenegro, of which the majority are Serbian tourists.

As we further strengthen the positive aspects of economic interdependence and regional competitiveness, the economic prosperity of individual countries is directly affected. The coordinated development of strategic economic and infrastructure projects, the development of entrepreneurship and joint initiatives to attract foreign direct investment and the greater integration of financial markets, all represent areas of underutilization of the potential of regional integration.

Tourism, food, energy and financial markets are vital areas which require a higher degree of association between the countries of our region, in order to compete in the European and global marketplace. The formation of a joint stock exchange and the integrated promotion of regional tourism and food brands would have direct added value for the specific economies. In addition, a greater degree of cooperation at the level of education, regional strategies and validation of academic degrees and the establishment of regional centres of excellence as well as higher labour mobility, would help reduce the growing gap between the quality produced by educational institutions and the needs of the labour market.

Further initiatives from the business sector exist, which encourage more intense and faster interconnection in this context; Summit 100 is one of the most representative. Impressions from the gathering of the Summit 100 indicate that businessmen of the region recognize the large and measurable opportunities presented by greater economic cooperation in the region and are ready to invest in their actualization.

Consequently, with adequate support of the state administrations this initiative can create significant added value for all citizens of the region. The will and intent of the state authorities is evident and can be seen through the steps taken in the Berlin Initiative and by the intensified dialogue between Belgrade and Podgorica; further progress is expected at the forthcoming conference in Budva.

However, we need a more effective and faster access to the ruling administrations, in order to concretize the already indicated will to support regional economic integration and the increase of regional competitiveness through specific pieces of new legislation, the reduction of trade barriers and the creation of conditions for a faster flow of capital in the region. At the level of individual countries as well as regional markets, development of entrepreneurship and the inflow of direct foreign investment are lagging due to the elongated administrative procedures, the unpredictability in the estimation of taxes and the regulations on ownership and the flexibility of regulations regarding the labour market. Ultimately, all of the challenges are solvable and the forthcoming conference of the Chamber of Commerce of Montenegro, which will hold court to a dialogue between the business and the public sector in the exchange of the most experienced members of the region, will greatly contribute to the solution of such challenges.

Gross interdependence of the Western Balkan countries is a reality and a necessity, and the task for all of us, from the business and the public sector, is to strategically approach that interdependence and strengthen its positive aspects, which are most evident in the sphere of economics.

Dr Dusko Knezevic,  

President  Atlas Group

Member of the Board Summit100 Business Leaders of South East Europe

published on LinkedIN, October 2015 

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