By Zlatko Kovach

Balkan leaders agree they can create prosperity if the region reconciles historical differences, acting as a unified bloc

Meeting at a summit in New York last week, Balkan leaders delivered a strong message in favour of regional reconciliation and co-operation, despite lingering differences.

The third annual Federation of Balkan American Associations (FEBA) conference brought together the prime ministers of Turkey, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, BiH and Kosovo. Students and members of the diaspora were among the nearly 2,000 guests attending the event, dubbed "Road Map 2011 -- Milestones to Achieving Common Ground".

"There are millions of Balkan peoples abroad and we do not want to lose them," EBA president Aras Konjhodzic told SETimes, describing the diaspora as particularly important in the creation of prosperity in the Balkans.

At an afternoon business forum, economic experts stressed the role of Turkey as a regional engine of growth but disagreed about the fate of the eurozone and the EU itself.

Turkey's Central Bank Governor Ibrahim Turhan explained that emerging markets -- such as those in the Balkans -- will play an increasingly significant role. Such markets, he said, tend to be concerned more with economic stability than with growth.

"When compared to the advanced markets, the policies in the emerging markets are stronger and more promising," Turhan told SETimes.

According to Turhan, the Balkans' dynamism and economic promise provides all the basis for the region to contribute positively to the EU.

"For this to happen, co-operation among the Balkan countries is key, and we should take all available opportunities for networking, such as this conference, to build stronger ties and co-operation, particularly on a regional basis," Turhan said.

The summit's evening portion began with the prime ministers entering the Javitz Centre amid thunderous applause.

"This is by far the best and largest Balkan gathering of all my life. I salute you," Albania's Sali Berisha said.

As an example of the region's economic dynamism, Berisha cited Albania's Free Trade Agreement with Turkey, signed four years ago. "In the period 2005-10, trade has increased four times, a clear win-win situation for everybody." He listed energy and tourism as two most desirable areas for investment and development.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, stressed his country's historic ties with the Balkan countries, noting that millions of citizens of Balkan heritage are living in Turkey.

"This means everything related to the Balkans is of interest to us," Erdogan said.

In an interview with SETimes, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said the event symbolises the region's commitment to co-operation, calling it a visionary idea in itself.

"The challenge consists of how to adapt ourselves more rapidly and more efficiently," he said, adding that "only jointly we can respond to the citizen's demands for prosperity."

Regarding efforts to improve the investment climate, Gruevski told SETimes that Macedonia is not doing anything now that it had not started already, including opening free economic zones for investors, as a result of which the country's economic growth reached 5.2%.

"Macedonia has lowest taxes and investment-related costs and a well-educated labour force as a result of which the investment interest continues to grow. For example, Johnson Controls returned to invest again; it listed the great conditions offered, educated labour force as well as excellent communication with government institutions as the reasons," Gruevski told SETimes.


- Provided by Southeast European Times


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Balkans Summit Extols Regional Co-Operation | Global Viewpoint