Within the geographical borders of the Adriatic, Ionian, Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Seas which outline the Balkan Peninsula, the origin of human society dates back to the Paleolithic period. Following the development of grain farming and livestock raising practices in the area which spread from the Middle East during the Neolithic period around 7,000 B.C., human settlements expanded with the aid of human migration, multi-ethnic cultures took root, regional trade developed, the population grew amidst waves of conflict, and human ingenuity led the region in becoming the site of Europe‘s first advanced civilization located in Greece beginning in 3200 B.C. at the beginning of the Bronze Age in Europe.
Modernly within those geographical borders lies a region commonly known as the Balkans which is a term coined in the early 19th century that is used to describe the culturally diverse, resource-rich area shared by countries in southeastern Europe, including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo*, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Turkey. These countries constitute a significant socio-economic component of the global economy with a combined population of approximately 136 million people producing an estimated $1.46 trillion in annual Gross Domestic Product, according to the World Bank.
Many of these countries possess memberships in various international organisations that were established for the purpose of facilitating economic development and security, such as the World Bank, World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Council of Europe. Another significant socio-economic alliance is shared by Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece and Romania as European Union (EU) Member States while Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey are EU candidate countries. Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Kosovo are considered to be potential candidates for EU membership.
These alliances along with diverse cultures and natural resources represent economic assets, the responsible management of which can contribute to the long term economic performance of the individual nations; however, Balkan development potential, economic growth and inter-state cooperation have been hindered by the consequences of multi-faceted regional conflicts.
Reliance upon external economic development aid is neither a viable nor a sustainable long term solution to the region’s current challenges that include the need for socio-economic stability, security and inter-state cooperation. As a result, the Balkan Economic Forum was established to strengthen the region’s network of business enterprises and economic growth prospects which, in turn, support stability and security.
* This designation is in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1244/1999 and the International Court of Justice Opinion of 22 July 2010 on Kosovo’s declaration of independence.