Not long ago, many Balkan countries operated under an economic system based on state control and central government planning that restricted private enterprise and became uncompetitive in global trade markets. Since then, these countries have undertaken the challenging, yet eminently worthwhile, transition to free market economies characterised by the deregulation of prices and markets and the liberalisation of capital, labour and product markets; however, in the absence of strong and effective support mechanisms, this transition does not automatically lead to economic development and improved social welfare.
During this transitional period, these economies have experienced severe contractions due in part to the collapse of many uncompetitive, state-owned enterprises and the spread of the global economic crisis which, along with other factors, have resulted in massive unemployment, increased poverty, social instability and widespread corruption. Now during the latter stages of the global economic crisis, Balkan regional income levels have dropped below their 1989 values.* As a result, the Balkan inhabitants “are concerned about jobs, health care, the education of their children and pensions. … the main problem for the Balkans is a lack of jobs.”**
To help ameliorate the problem and develop strong trading partners which will forestall the rising spectre of ethnic tensions fuelled by the memories of past conflicts to which weakened societies can be vulnerable, the Balkan Economic Forum is working to deliver a fresh impetus to the region with the invaluable help of its members who are in a position to stimulate and support new business growth using innovative strategies and a grass roots approach.
The Balkans are inextricably linked in history as well as destiny. That is why we need to move forward, together, to build a better future for ourselves.
* Monastiriotis V. and Petrakos G. (2010), “Twenty Years of Economic Transition in the Balkans: transition failures and development challenges”, Southeastern Europe, 34(2):154-174
** “Mostly Miserable”, The Economist, 19 June 2012