Thessaloniki, Greece – Western Balkan civic and political leaders along with business professionals gathered in Thessaloniki, Greece, from 7–9 February 2013 for the first annual Balkan Forum on Regional Cooperation. Hosted by the Mayor of Thessaloniki, Yiannis Boutaris, this year’s Forum gathered multiple stakeholders and young leaders to develop a platform for generating ideas and innovative strategies to support the initiative’s long-term goal of transforming the region into a unified force poised to act on the European and global stages. Former Prime Minister of Greece George A. Papandreou offered framing remarks.
The Forum recognizes that there is now a unique opportunity to create a new narrative for the Balkans, given the aspiration of Western Balkan countries to join the European Union, and the many people and institutions in the region that are committed to fostering economic development through regional collaboration. This new narrative would leverage the region’s cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity as a valuable asset rather than highlighting divisive issues. It would present the region as a joint market wherein people and goods can move freely. As a framework for considering these issues, this first Forum focused on four interconnected sectors where challenges are significant but the potential for innovative approaches and meaningful change is considerable: 1) Regional Educational Approaches, 2) Human Capital and Labor Markets, 3) Infrastructure and Tourism Development, and 4) Energy, Environment, and Economic Development.
The annual Balkan Forum on Regional Collaboration reflects the vision and desire of citizens of the region for economic progress and regional collaboration. Over 50 leaders from the Balkans participated in this year’s Forum. In support of the initiative’s goals, David Burger, Deputy Director, Office of South Central European Affairs of the U.S. State Department, and Jan-Erik Enestam, Nordic Council Secretary General also participated. Learning from representatives of other regional models, participants had an opportunity to focus on the region’s strengths and comparative advantages, with the overarching goal of catalyzing regional development competitiveness within European and global markets.
During the year following each Forum, concrete ideas and initiatives that emerge from its deliberations will be further developed and supported by The Balkan Forum, a regional non-profit institution based in Thessaloniki. Each subsequent Forum will review and build on progress made during the year.
The Balkan Forum on Regional Cooperation is coordinated by Marika Theros and supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The Fund’s work in the Balkans gives special attention to democratic practice, sustainable development, and peacebuilding goals.