European Union

Why did the Balkans’ political leaders meet in Geneva this week?

A woman casts her ballot for the referendum in Macedonia on changing the country's name that would open the way for it to join NATO and the European Union in Skopje, Macedonia September 30, 2018

Image: REUTERS/Marko Djurica - RC163AD7A8E0

Oliver Cann
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European Union

Note: This article was written on October 2nd 2018.

As October begins, the World Economic Forum welcomes five European heads of state or government at our headquarters in Geneva. The meeting is the latest instalment of a Strategic Dialogue on the Western Balkans that began in January at our 2018 Annual Meeting in Davos, but what is it exactly that we hope to achieve?

The over-riding objective of our meeting is to assist the six economies of the Western Balkans; Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia to address the shared challenges they collectively face; boosting economic growth, improving infrastructure and the functioning of markets and attracting and retaining the talent they will need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


Strategically important given their position and history, the Western Balkans Six nevertheless trail many of their European peers economically. According to our Global Competitiveness Index 2018, Albania is the most competitive among the group, ranking 75, followed by Montenegro and Serbia on 77 and 78 respectively.

This consistency can perhaps be explained by the close recent history of these economies: from the end of the Second World War until the early 1990s, five of them were part of Yugoslavia. Looking forward, their aspirations to join the European Union very much depend on their ability to raise economic growth and competitiveness levels closer to the European norm.

This week's meeting has been designed to re-energize efforts towards this goal by rekindling the spirit of cooperation between the six economies. With an agenda focused on producing firm commitments towards common goals, there is considerable expectation that by the next time leaders meet in Davos in 2019, concrete steps will have been made towards a new regional strategy for transformation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Participants attending the meeting include:

  • Børge Brende, President, Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum
  • Ana Brnabić, Prime Minister of Serbia
  • Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey
  • Miroslav Lajcák, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic
  • Martina Larkin, Head of Regional Strategies, Europe and Eurasia, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
  • Ursula von der Leyen, Federal Minister of Defence of Germany, Member of the Board of Trustees, World Economic Forum
  • Krystyna Marty, Deputy State Secretary and Deputy Political Director, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland
  • Borut Pahor, President of Slovenia
  • Lilyana Pavlova, Minister for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2018
  • Zoran Pažin, Deputy Prime Minister for Political System, Internal and Foreign Policy and Minister of Justice of Montenegro
  • Andrej Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia
  • Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania
  • Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum
  • Hashim Thaci, President of Kosovo (This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) and the International Court of Justice Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of Independence)
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