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Connecting economies for stronger growth: How Crown Agents can support EBRD’s ambitions in the Western Balkans /

Jay Hoffman (Bids and Proposal Lead, Training and Professional Development) and Olga Silvestrova (Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia) at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s 2019 Annual Meeting and Business Forum in Sarajevo this month.

Jay Hoffman (Bids and Proposals Lead for Training and Professional Development) attended this year’s European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Annual Meeting in Sarajevo which focused on ‘Connecting economies for stronger growth’. In this blog he reflects on the key debates and themes coming out of the meeting and how Crown Agents’ can help EBRD realise its ambitions for the Western Balkans.

Over our long history, Crown Agents has been an active partner to governments, international financial institutions and local civil society groups working towards shared and stronger economic growth. With our mission to accelerate prosperity and self-sufficiency in the countries in which we work, we know how important it is to deepen integration between different stakeholders, and connect local decision-makers with providers of technical expertise.

That’s why we were delighted to attend the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s 2019 Annual Meeting and Business Forum in Sarajevo earlier this month with a thematic focus on ‘Connecting economies for stronger growth’.

Country delegations and business guests alike emphasised key issues of regional integration and private sector development, highlighting these as much-needed drivers of stronger growth in the Western Balkans.

Integration across the Western Balkans delivers benefits beyond economic growth
During the week we heard about the EBRD’s infrastructure investments in the region. These include traditional projects – like the Corridor Vc road artery connecting Bosnia and Herzegovina with Croatia – alongside digital infrastructure and green technology. And in an unambiguous sign of high-level political buy-in across the region, the leaders of the six Western Balkan nations took part in a panel discussion in which they each called for deeper and faster integration.

For these six leaders the target ahead is eventual EU membership.  A common view at the meeting was that the Berlin Process, which sets out Western Balkan nations’ accession, could go faster. Harmonisation of laws and trade standards across the region would unlock the benefits of EU membership, with the end result being a stable peace in the region. In a city where bullet holes were visible on many of the buildings near the meeting venue, this brought home Baroness Ashton’s point that economic prosperity was pointless without conditions of peace in which to enjoy it.

EBRD’s renewed focus on private sector development at ground level
With an eye on the Bank’s core function as a financial institution, its President, Sir Suma Chakrabarti, spoke of the “hard-headed logic of what we can do to help transition to market economies”. Key to this, he explained, was rebalancing the Bank’s portfolio towards the private sector.

Over the week we heard stakeholders from the region outline the business environment reforms needed to help the private sector participate in EBRD projects. Many of these challenges stem from the complex and contested political arrangements of several former Yugoslavian states, as well as a perception of corruption – justified or not.

Other stakeholders told us how interventions needed to be tailored to the context: what works in the water sector might not solve problems of the state-owned transportation company. The public procurement failings in one province might be inseparably linked to the particular political structure of that place. This feedback underscored the need for any donor-funded projects to build on local knowledge from the start.

Crown Agents can support EBRD’s work in the Western Balkans region and beyond
With a track record in the region going back fifteen years, and our more recent delivery of SME training for the EBRD in eight countries, our expertise can help achieve these ambitious aims. Crown Agents projects such as procurement implementation for the Ukraine Ministry of Health, or the track and trace technology system used in pharmaceutical supply chains, increase connectivity between regions and partners while promoting transparency. We are keen to continue the valuable conversations begun and renewed at the meeting, and look forward to re-establishing our presence in the Western Balkans.