Region aims to meet EU 2020 growth strategy

Balkan countries work on a joint growth plan in an attempt to meet the EU 2020 strategy.

By Biljana Lajmanovska for SES Türkiye in Skopje -- 07/12/12

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Regional co-operation as a basis for economic growth is behind a joint growth strategy that Balkan countries are developing as a response to EU 2020, a 10-year plan proposed by the European Commission in 2010 to advance the EU economy.

Representatives of the Western Balkan countries and Turkey gathered late last month in Skopje to start dialogue on EU 2020 goals.

EU 2020 promotes "smart, sustainable, inclusive growth" with greater co-ordination of national and European policy. It sets five key priorities: employment, research and development and innovation, climate change and energy, education, fight against poverty and social inclusion.

Most of the targets in the strategy are far reaching for the Balkan states, but officials are confident that meeting the European standards is not impossible.

"This is an ambitious agenda, but without ambitious targets you can't have good results. I think the regional countries have capacities to yield results, if they mobilise well," Teuta Arifi, Macedonian deputy prime minister for European affairs, told SES Türkiye.

The EU strategy envisions that 75 percent of the 20- to 64-year-olds in the bloc will be employed by 2020; 3 percent of EU's GDP will go to research, development and innovation; greenhouse emissions will decrease by 20 percent compared to 1990; 20 percent of the total energy in the EU will come from renewables; and there will be a 20 percent increase in energy efficiency.

In education, the strategy plans to reduce the school dropout rate to below 10 percent, and have at least 40 percent of 30- to 34-year-olds completing third-level education. According to the EU strategy, by 2020, at least 20 million fewer people will be in or at risk of poverty and social exclusion.

The region is still far from meeting these goals, said Radmila Shekerinska, former Macedonian deputy prime minister. According to her, the region still struggles with poor education structure, low innovation investment, high poverty and unemployment.

"For example, Macedonia now invests only 0.1 percent of GDP in research and development. Even if we improve this, the biggest problem will definitely be unemployment. The indicator says that 75 percent of population, ages 20 to 64, should be employed. In Macedonia this rate is 48 percent, in Serbia approximately 49 percent, in Albania 60 percent ... so we are far," Shekerinska told SES Türkiye.

Meeting the goals, however, is not a choice. It is a necessity for the countries that are a part of the European family.

As a presiding country with the Southeast Europe Co-operation Process, Macedonia proposed transforming EU 2020 Strategy into a set of joint priorities compatible to realities in the Balkans.

A set of nine targets for the region was supported by the members during a meeting held in Sarajevo in October.

Proposed targets for the Southeast Europe 2020 Strategy include increasing the region's total value of trade in goods and services, reducing the trade deficit and escalating intra-regional trade in goods by more than 200 percent.

"Europe is going through a changing phase and there's a need to keep pace with these changes," Stefano Sannino, director-general for enlargement in the European Commission, said.


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