It could take the Western Balkan region between 50 or 60 years to catch up to the EU living standard, a report compiled by the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee states,
The report was presented ahead of the recent Western Balkans summit in London, and, in essence, it says that “the prospects of the six countries of the Western Balkans, when it comes to EU membership, are pretty grim.”
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The remarks about 50 or 60 years required for the Western Balkan states to catch up with the EU living standard came from an EBRD official, while the World Bank forecast puts this time range at between 40 and 200 years.
But what is the reality here? Can citizens of Serbia achieve the EU living standard faster than most optimistic predictions say?
The estimates made by the World Bank are mathematical, claims Aleksandar Vlahovic, president of the Serbian Association of Economists and the former Minister of Economy and Privatization. He adds, however, that there is room for more optimism, providing that the state takes certain steps.
“With a high GDP growth, we are going to reach EU standard in 25 years”
“The estimate that we will reach the EU standard in 50 to 60 years is made by comparing the GDP growth rates in the Western Balkans and those in the EU in the period from 2000 to 2017. The pessimistic forecast, namely that we would achieve the EU standard in 200 years, are generating by comparing the GDP growth from the onset of the financial crisis onward”, says Vlahovic.
He adds that Serbia’s GDP per capita is one-quarter of the GDP of the most developed EU countries, one-third of the GDP of the so-called Southern Europe (Italy, Spain) and a half of the GDP per capita in Eastern Europe (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland). In order for the countries of the Western Balkans, including Serbia, to reach the average EU standard much faster, they would need to have an annual economic growth of around 5%.
In this case, says Vlahovic, we could reach the EU’s living standard in less than 25 years.
“We need investments in order for this to happen. In the case of Serbia, investments make up 18% of the GDP, and they would need to reach at least 23%. In order have these additional five percents, we need to restructure and privatize large public enterprises, as well as to attract private investments in Serbia. Also, it is necessary to have a more efficient judicial system and to speed up bankruptcy proceedings”, explains the former minister.
Decades until joining EU
Less than 25 years ago, the Western Balkans was blighted by armed conflict, including some of the most extreme violence perpetuated against civilians in Europe since the Second World War, the report said, and quoted Dimitar Bechev from the University of North Carolina as saying that among the many obstacles are “chronic economic stagnation, bilateral disputes and ethnic conflicts.”
“The Western Balkans has overcome many of the problems which bred violent conflict in the 1990s, but his is where the good news ends. It remains hampered by a set of interwoven problems -state capture, chronic economic stagnation, bilateral disputes and ethnic conflicts -which prove that the region’s progress cannot be taken for granted. These problems are exacerbated by local elites who have an interest in the status quo,” Bechev stated.
Also, the document highlights the moderate popularity of EU enlargement among citizens in member states. Timothy Less, director of the Nova Europe political consultancy, says that 39 percent of EU citizens supported the admission of new members, while 49 percent of them were absolutely opposed to the idea.
Judging by the current trajectory, it will take decades for the Western Balkans to join the EU – he said.
There is not much hope for optimism in the UK report. However, Marko Savkovic from the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, does not fully agree that it will take Serbia decades to become an EU member. He said that Serbia’s admission into the EU would depend on the leading countries of the Union, rather than Brussels, which is no longer consulted about this issue.
“The problem is that France and Germany have no common position on this issue. It’s not that Emmanuel Macron opposes the enlargement. In fact, he wants the EU to reform itself according to the French principles, and then consider admitting new members. As for us, we are still sticking to the prospect of EU entry by 2025 and the government should be adhering to that deadline. After all, the implementation of the reforms required in the negotiation process is in the interest of our development. We should not give up”, Savkovic concludes.
This post is also available in: Italiano