25 January 2013, Brussels
Ladies and gentlemen:
It is a great pleasure to address you this morning, to share with you UNDP’s thinking on the key development challenges facing the Western Balkans and Turkey. We very much welcome this opportunity for dialogue together, recognising the role of both the national partners and the European Union in this region in preparing together for the 2014 to 2020 Instrument for Pre-Accession.
UNDP has been privileged to a have a long-term engagement with the individual countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey that has spanned almost 20 years – and in the case of Turkey, dates back to 1957. Through our presence in each country -- centered on programming, implementation and partnerships -- we engage daily, with national, regional and local governments, communities, civil society, private sector, and others. Through this close collaboration, we very much recognise and appreciate that these countries have led their own transitions, underpinned by the reforms they are conducting in line with their EU aspirations. The important advances and reforms on all fronts are evident. However, we are also aware of the numerous challenges that the countries face, drawing from our previous engagement in the Central and Eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007.
Before delving into the specific challenges, allow me to share with you three overriding observations that stem from our partnership with these countries:
First, furthering European integration is synonymous with promoting human development, and widening people’s choices about their well-being, and their future. Secondly, strengthening governance, accountability, and transparency at all levels – local, regional and central -- is absolutely critical. Without this, the possibility of realising real reforms and achieving true progress in any sphere – whether social, economic, political, environment – becomes more remote. And thirdly, increased efforts to deepen regional collaboration and reconciliation will benefit the individual countries and the region as a whole -- not least through strengthened human security, stability, and expanded economic opportunities.
As a backdrop, we are all well-aware of the difficult economic landscape these countries face, with the exception of Turkey. In several cases GDP remains below 2008 levels; in those countries where growth has been more positive, it is often jobless growth, with unemployment rates hitting 4 to 5 times the EU average in some countries. These economic realities further hinder more rapid progress and reforms.
With regard to more specific challenges, let me first highlight rule of law and the fight against corruption – recognising that while many countries have made significant progress, the Acquis requirements from Chapters 23 and 24 remain great challenges. Based on our work on rule of law throughout the region, we observe several objectives that would require more support and progress, including: Access to justice, by all members of society. Strong capacities of the rule of law institutions. Independent and efficient institutions, including the police and courts. Strong public procurement and transparent public administration. And ultimately: the protection of human rights of all citizens, including the vulnerable and socially excluded.
Turning to social exclusion as the next challenge, allow me to elaborate. A 2011 UNDP regional human development report analysed the factors that increase a person’s chance of being affected by social exclusion. The report highlights that in southeastern Europe, several groups are particularly at risk: women; youth; Roma and other minorities; persons with disabilities; persons displaced by conflict; and those living in small towns or remote rural areas. Statistics corroborate this: for example, the labour force participation rate for women in several countries is only about half of the EU average of 65 percent. And with the exception of Albania and Turkey, more than one-third of youth are unemployed in all of the countries.
This brings me to the third challenge I would like to highlight: rural and regional development. Based on our experience, a critical priority is to ensure the ability for local and regional authorities to prepare development plans that are integrated, through a multi-sectoral approach, and to develop and implement related projects. These integrated local development plans need to be prepared in a participatory manner, based on sufficient and accurate data, and adequately budgeted by local, regional, national, and -- eventually -- European resources. As UNDP, in each and every country of the Western Balkans and Turkey we have been supporting the development and implementation of local and regional integrated development plans. From this experience, we feel strongly that strengthening capacities of local and regional communities to conduct integrated analysis, planning, implementation and effective service delivery to citizens is a cornerstone of the countries’ further human development progress – and one that still requires a concerted amount of focus, energy, and resources.
The fourth and final challenge that I would like to highlight is energy. From our global experience, it is increasingly evident that energy efficiency, access, and the development of renewable sources are core factors in enabling people and countries to improve their quality of life and to prosper. This is certainly relevant for this region, taking into account the energy intensity of the Western Balkans, which is up to two and a half times higher than the average for the OECD countries in Europe. At the same time, one out of every six people in the region suffers from fuel poverty those impacts on their lifestyle, prosperity, and health. And, last but not least, countries in the region predominantly rely on one source of energy, either coal or hydropower, and otherwise depend on imported gas and oil. This dependency is making them vulnerable to external shock and fluctuations of the global energy markets. Countries need to diversify, through the development of renewable energy sources.
I would like to conclude with a few final thoughts about what the years 2014 to 2020 might bring. We know that these are uncertain times globally, and that the world is changing rapidly. Unfortunately, we can likely expect to see more of the damaging effects of climate change, and the accompanying social, economic and human cost. We can most likely expect to see more countries grappling with instability, unrest and even conflict around the world, spurred by mounting social pressure against inequity, exclusion, and the lack of accountability by institutions. And we will likely see, at least for the near future, countries grappling with economic uncertainty and hardship.
No country is immune from these risks. As we have seen in other regions, external and internal shocks can disrupt countries’ economic, political, and social stability, undermining years of development gains. However, we have also seen that countries with the capacity to manage these risks have remained resilient to their effects.
We are confident that there are efforts underway by the countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey to manage these risks. But we know that it is not easy. As I highlighted at the outset, the reforms that the countries are making in line with the Copenhagen criteria are already a critical component of ensuring resilience – including strengthening governance at the central, regional, and local levels. I would propose an additional factor to accelerate: regional reconciliation, cooperation and collaboration. Not only will this increase the prospects for enhanced economic opportunities, it will enhance the prospects for the human stability and security that is needed to consolidate and advance the significant development gains already achieved.
We look forward to continuing as a partner to these countries, as they continue to make important strides towards their aspirations of EU integration.