Magazine article Europe-East

Western Balkans : Economic Crisis Underscores Need to Join Eu, Study Finds

Magazine article Europe-East

Western Balkans : Economic Crisis Underscores Need to Join Eu, Study Finds

Article excerpt

"EU membership remains the only viable foreign policy alternative" for healthy economic growth in the Western Balkans, a new report from a US-based economic consultancy, IHS Global Insight, has concluded. The report, which looked at the impact that the economic crisis has had on the region, underscored how reliant their economies already are on the EU, with exports to the EU27 dwarfing exports both to one other and to Russia. Given that, author Sharon Fisher found it "puzzling" that "politicians from several countries in the Western Balkans have appeared to be balancing themselves between East and West, allowing Russia to enter key sectors such as energy, while putting off reforms recommended by the EU and IMF". Fisher added that "the current global crisis serves as a crucial reminder that there is more to be gained by co-operating with the EU and IMF than with Russia".

In 2008, the EU was the destination for over 50% of exports in seven of the eight countries studied - Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro and Serbia - and 47.8% for Kosovo. By contrast, Russia was the destination for less than 5% of their exports. Though CEFTA, a regional free trade agreement for non-EU countries, has boosted exports between Balkan countries, the EU remains by far their biggest market. For example, 79.7% of Albania's exports went to the EU and just 13.9% to other CEFTA states.

GROWING RUSSIAN PRESENCE

GDP per capita of the Balkan eight remains far below the EU27 average, with Croatia the highest at over 60% and Albania the lowest at about 25%. Croatia is roughly at the same level as the eight Central and East European countries who joined the EU in 2004, while the others are closer to the level of Romania and Bulgaria, who joined in 2007. …

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