Vienna Economic Forum: Business should lead the politics of the Western Balkans

Sofia Talks 2018; Photo: EU2018BG

SOFIA – The Western Balkans is ready and willing to cooperate more between the countries of the region and with the EU, in order to provide the better life for its citizens, it is said today at the conference “Sofia Talks 2018”, organised by the Vienna Economic Forum in Sofia.

At this official side event of the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, prime ministers of the Western Balkans, with exception of Bosnia and Herzegovina, came together to discuss the possibilities of enhancing the economic integration of the region, as the Connectivity Agenda is one of the priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency but also the main topic of the yesterday’s Summit.

Read more about the EU – Western Balkans Summit that took place on 17 May here.

Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, believes that the region has made a notable progress in the last several years when it comes to the economic investments in the Balkans and the region’s connectivity agenda.

“We are seeing more expression of interest for investments in the region. Five years ago, this was absolutely impossible to imagine. I believe this is the trend that will only grow positively,” said Rama.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić agreed that the EU brought the region together like never before. She explained that with the economic prosperity comes together much-needed peace in the Balkans. Since the connectivity agenda is the bridge between politics and business, Serbian PM believes it should be the path to remove the obstacles on the region’s way to the EU.

“Business should lead and the politics should follow – it is more straightforward and pragmatic, and it finds the way to break the barriers,” said Brnabić.

As an example, she mentioned a situation when Serbian businesspeople went to participate at the business event in Pristina, despite the issues Serbia has with Kosovo.

With the fact that the EU and the region should work together, Prime Minister of Macedonia Zoran Zaev agrees, pointing out that the Western Balkans are not “a temping bomb anymore, but a part of Europe,” and that the EU has worked very hard to connect the region in various ways.

“I want to ensure you that the friendship between the countries of the region and between the region and Europe is very honest and we are here to open the doors for further cooperation. We will do our best to put connectivity high on our agenda,” Zaev said.

Despite the fact that many believed that the Summit will be about the enlargement, instead of the connectivity agenda, many believe that these two topics go hand in hand and that they are not substitutes for one another.

Sofia Talks 2018; Photo: EU2018BG

That this topic was timely and a very useful one, believes Prime Minister of Montenegro Duško Marković.

“In the Balkans, the priority has always been given to politics and history, rather than economy and development. That approach led us to the lowest percentage of development in Europe. This fact is worrying and it should encourage us to move forward,” said Marković.

He added that the countries of the Western Balkans are a good example of trust building and that its European path should not be questionable.

Speaking on the progress of Montenegro, he expressed his hope that the country will open all of the remaining chapters by the end of the year and that in the next five years will be able to conclude the negotiations.

Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj emphasised Kosovo’s support to the countries of the region, namely Albania and Macedonia when it comes to starting the accession talks.

“I heard yesterday, at the Summit that the project of one of us, is the project of all of us. Kosovo is strongly supporting the starting the EU accession talks with Albania. If this does not happen soon, it could be a big loss for the region, as well as for Europe,” Haradinaj said.

Brnabić and Marković agreed that this should be done as soon as possible since both of the countries deserved the opening of the negotiations with the EU.

“I am deeply convinced that with the vision of Rama and Zaev, both of the countries will prosper,” Marković concluded.

Vienna Economic Forum (VEF) was established in April 2004 in Vienna as a Bulgarian initiative with the aim of promoting regional economic cooperation between the member countries of the region from the Adriatic to the Black Sea. In its 14 years of existence, Vienna Economic Forum has continuously been strengthening its role both in the region of South Eastern Europe, and also in other EU- and non-EU countries.