Gabriel Escobar: We support the “Open Balkan”

United States (U.S.) Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Special Envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar is in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) this week.

The fastest-growing region

During yesterday‘s meeting with journalists, Escobar spoke about the goals of his visit, emphasizing that the situation in BiH is of deep concern to the U.S. administration.

This is my third visit to Bosnia in the previous two months and I must say that during my visits to the countries of the Western Balkans, I saw what is the extent of the crisis in BiH. I do not mean only the political crisis, but the long-term crisis that exists in BiH. The true story of the Balkans and the former Yugoslavia is the success story of the seven countries of the former Yugoslavia. The story is successful when it comes to NATO, four of them are in NATO, two in the European Union (EU), one on its way to the EU.

When you look at the Western Balkans as a whole, you also have Albania, which will most likely become a member of the EU. When it comes to the Western Balkans and the part of the Western Balkans that is not part of the EU, we are witnessing phenomenal economic growth. The economies of Montenegro, Serbia, and Kosovo have developed at an incredibly high rate. The fiscal administrations in Albania and North Macedonia make them unique and thus these countries qualify for EU membership. With European integration and all related economic processes in the region, the Western Balkans is already the fastest-growing region in Europe. It will be a source of growth and development for Europe, it will be a regional source for the energy sector, transport, IT sector, technology and, having in mind the large university centers, it will become an educational center, ” Escobar believes.

The real problem in BiH is deep-rooted corruption

Bosnia is not part of everything I am talking about now. Bosnia’s economy has barely marked growth in the past year, and COVID-19 is not a reason for that. This country could barely fight inflation. The economy grew by a quarter of the growth rate recorded in Kosovo. The departure of young people is ten times higher than in North Macedonia or Serbia. While other countries are making progress in the fight against corruption, corruption has worsened here. According to a report by Transparency International, only Belarus and Azerbaijan are more corrupt than BiH. Therefore, the real problem in BiH is deep-rooted corruption, and you know that people are leaving this country not because they do not want to live in a multiethnic state. They are leaving this country because they cannot find a job without corrupt connections. That is the problem,stated Escobar.

That is the true goal we are focused on and what we want to achieve when we work on creating a sustainable state here in BiH. Of course, we also have an immediate political crisis in the country, and that immediate political crisis affects the functionality of central institutions and destroys the economy of this country, which is unnecessary. Our goal is to try to help this country find a way forward towards the formation and existence of central institutions that will enable both the political and economic life of this country and catching up with the region. This is crucial for this country. I am ready to be a partner to any politician and any foreigner who is ready to fight corruption. Otherwise, we will do it ourselves. But that is the purpose of my visit. Not an immediate crisis, but solving long-term problems that exist in BiH. I also ask all politicians I meet to be part of the solution or we will look at them as part of the problem, ” Escobar noted.

You can’t function with a market of 600.000 people

We support every effort for regional economic integration. The Berlin Process, the Common Regional Market, CEFTA, and the Open Balkan. As long as it is open to all countries, as long as it provides legal and regulatory systems and raises them to the European level, as long as it promotes fairness, open trade, we will support these principles. I would say that this is already happening, that there is a huge regional economic integration with or without a common regional market. But BiH is the only one not participating. As long as it is an economic initiative, it could be positive. After all, the economies of this area cannot function if you have a market of 600.000 in Montenegro or 2 million in North Macedonia. You need a market of 20 million for everyone to participate in it. This is the basis which is a condition when it comes to our support for the ‘Open Balkan’, ” Escobar pointed out.

But the U.S. envoy stressed that economic integration must be preceded by the creation of strong institutions.


Source: Klix.ba

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