Thanks to its geographic location, rich natural resources, mixed Mediterranean and continental climates, and the strength of its human capital, the Balkans are in a very favorable position with significant environmental comparative advantages. With sufficient political will, intellectual capacity, civil society leadership, and determination to learn from the past, the countries of the region can build a renewable energy economy and become a model for the continent.
The economic challenges that the Balkan countries face today represent an opportunity for reform that can not only set the region on the right development track, but also revitalize its young democracies. People in the region are looking for development that provides employment, guarantees a dignified life, and promotes just and wise use of natural resources.
The region is not starting from scratch when it comes to collaboration around a shared green economy, and the Balkan Forum will work to facilitate the emergence and implementation of promising new ideas, and help mobilize resources and investments that advance collaboration. The Energy Community treaty signed in Athens in 2005 is a starting point as it demonstrates that the region can uphold agreements that create integrated markets on the basis of common interests and solidarity. It shows that the Balkans can prepare itself not only to receive and make good use of European assistance, but also to contribute significantly to the stability, development, and independence of the EU’s energy sector.
Human capital is an important factor of economic growth and development and a source of competitive advantages. Countries in the Balkans would benefit from improved labor market competitiveness and increased investments in education, science, and technology that lead to skilled human capital.
While there are ongoing efforts to foster regional trade and promote private sector development, a large segment of the population remains jobless, constraining economic development, increasing inequality, and weakening communities. Challenges that must be addressed include poor coordination between educational and labor market policies; imbalances between labor demand and supply, linked to skill mismatches; inadequate systems for forecasting labor market trends and skills requirements; political, bureaucratic and institutional impediments to entrepreneurship, innovation, and new company formation; insufficient research and development; and obstacles to free movement of labor, among other issues. Facilitating the emergence of a regional labor market will require special attention to harmonizing education and training systems across the region and upgrading the region’s research capacities.
Building on the region’s competencies, the Balkan Forum seeks to mobilize closer regional cooperation to promote human capital development and improve regional market functioning. In so doing, it helps build consensus on the benefits of a more flexible regional market that can compete in an interconnected global economy. Development practice suggests that steps taken to foster human capital, linked with increased labor mobility and inclusive social policies, can boost overall competitiveness, alleviate poverty, and strengthen governance at all levels.
Education is a cornerstone of the region’s economic development and its integration into the European and global communities. Close cooperation on practical education initiatives can produce benefits that improve the lives and prospects of all citizens.
While there are a number of ongoing efforts to address education-related needs in the region, specific challenges remain such as difficulties in cross-country degree recognition, low levels of cooperation among universities in the region, and a lack of curricula that prepare students for today's most competitive jobs. The resulting educational migration to Western Europe is depriving the region of valuable human resources.
The Balkan Forum aims to help build a a modern, enhanced Balkan educational community, founded on the Balkans’ rich historical and cultural background, which will eventually become an integral part of the European education community.
The Balkan region is widely recognized for its impressive coastlines, gastronomic heritage, cultural traditions, and agricultural products that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. The economic power of tourism could be expanded through regional tourism initiatives that celebrate the Balkans’ cultural heritage and diversity and strengthen the region's infrastructure by linking individual countries. Such initiatives would provide financial returns to rural and urban communities throughout the region and reinforce connections among people.
To take advantage of these opportunities, the region needs better public education about the potential benefits of shared tourism and about initiatives that are ecologically, economically, and culturally sustainable. Improving the regional infrastructure would also create the conditions for improved regional tourism, including rail lines to ease the movement of tourists, regional education and training initiatives, and easier cross-border migration for job seekers.
The Balkan Forum aims to become a catalyst for closer regional cooperation around tourism and infrastructure development that will help create a vision for regional tourism development and promote a shared cultural heritage while celebrating the region's diversity.