TIRANA – “It is important to keep the process of regional economic integration vis-à-vis European integration alive and moving on. The Western Balkans should be part of the EU value chains”, said Majlinda Bregu, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) at the 2020 Tirana Connectivity Forum.
Majlinda Bregu participated in a panel discussion entitled “Winners and losers of COVID-19 in South-East Europe 6”, together with Michele Geraci, former Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, Ministry of Economic Development of the Italian Government, and Nenad Đurđević, senior adviser to the President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia.
According to Bregu’s opinion, the main challenge that the Western Balkans are going to face due to the pandemic will be both the recession in the region itself, but also the recession in the EU, the region’s main trading partner.
“Unemployment was considered even before the pandemic as the biggest problem for the Western Balkans. The macroeconomic situation in the region will affect the levels of poverty, as well as the level of education”, Bregu emphasized.
She added that the closer relations in the process of European integration, mostly the economic integration among Western Balkan countries, but also with the EU countries, is the economic imperative now.
“The regional economic integration in the Western Balkans is not a self-standing process, but it is an instrument to increase the convergence with the EU single market principles, and these can help the Western Balkans to participate in the EU value chains, to make the small and medium-sized enterprises more international, to upskill the technology that is in use, and people as well”, Bregu emphasized.
Bregu said that she agrees with the EU Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi that the Green Lanes initiative was a good example in the times of pandemic.
“We managed to ensure the flow of goods and medicine in the Western Balkans. Now we need to keep the border crossing points with EU member states open”, she added.
Bregu talked about foreign direct investments (FDI) to the Western Balkans, the economic support that the region has received from the EU since the beginning of the economic crisis due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and the new Economic and Investment Plan which is to be presented in October.
“The level of consciousness on the necessity of regional cooperation and economic integration is getting higher”, Bregu said, and added that the reason why the Green Lanes initiative was successful is because all the countries of Western Balkans 6 got together, joined by all relevant EU and regional organizations.
“The FDI in the region should serve the economic development in the digital innovation, and in agriculture as well. The legal framework, a better one, will always help the investors in the region. That is why we are working on one investment framework for the whole region. This can make the region more attractive and even more solid to face the challenges”, she argued.
In order to overcome the economic challenges imposed by the pandemic, Bregu argues that the countries should continue with the reforms that they have already introduced and try to use every opportunity to present the region as one market.