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LE MONDE VIENNA ECONOMIC FORUM Elena Kirtcheva “The EU should integrate the Western Balkans as soon as possible.“ Interview: Rainer Himmelfreundpointner DR. ELENA KIRTCHEVA As Secretary General of the Vienna Economic Forum, Dr. Elena Kirtcheva is maybe the most ambitious promoter of economic development in the Balkans. The regions should be part of the EU, she insists. CD: Ms Kirtcheva, you established Vienna Economic Forum (VEF) in 2004 to draw attention to the many possibilities throughout the Balkans. How exactly? Kirtcheva: The VEF pursues three main objectives which should all lead to greater prosperity in the region. Firstly, to promote and encourage investment opportunities in the region. Secondly, to provide the impetus and to point out the need of joint projects in the region for short, medium and long-term achievement and facilitate their implementation. Thirdly, to provide a space for encounter and realisation of public and private interests in connection with various projects in the region as part of a united Europe. After all, we now have fourteen VEF member countries, none of which were part of the EU in 2004. Meanwhile, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Slovenia are in the EU. How do you aim to deliver on these objectives? The Vienna Economic Forum takes place every year in November, at the Palais Niederösterreich in Vienna. At the ”12th Vienna Economic Forum – Vienna Dialogue 2015“ 64 per cent were international participants. Throughout the year, we hold our Vienna Economic Talks both in member countries as well as in Vienna. Immediately after Croatia‘s accession to the EU, for example, the Vienna Economic Talks ”Meet Croatia in Vienna“ took place at the Novomatic Forum. It is also worth mentioning that the ”Vienna Economic Talks Chisinau Meeting 2014“, especially due to the PHOTOS: RALPH MANFREDA fact that the European Commission‘s conference ”Moldova – EU International Investors Conference“ was held the following day and during which the results of the Vienna Economic Talks were reported. We provide a second platform with the Vienna Economic Talks dedicated to individual countries or topics in order to create more and better opportunities for investors. The Western Balkans are notably still affected by previous military conflicts. How does this impede the economic development of the region? In the past, the Balkan region was the scene of several wars, and in accordance with their mentality, people are also much more emotional than in Western Europe. But we have to look forward and the development of regional economy makes this possible. Via the economic initiative, we try to contribute to a more rational approach and that the countries get along as neighbours. Good neighbourly relations are better than hostility. And I see a lot of progress in this regard. For example? The six countries of the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia – have become the focus of the European Union and it is an important progress that the Prime Ministers of these countries got together – first during the first Western Balkans Conference in August 2014 in Berlin and then during the second Western Balkans Conference in August 2015 in Vienna. The next Western Balkans Conference is coming up in August 2016 in Paris. In order to support the common European goal, we organised the ”Vienna Economic Forum – Tirana Talks 2015“ together with the Albanian government and brought all six Prime Ministers together in a capital of the region for the first time. This happened during a time when relations between Serbia and Albania or between Macedonia and Albania were tense. Not to mention the tensions between Serbia and Kosovo or Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is not com- monplace, and the ”Vienna Economic Forum – Tirana Talks 2015“ was mentioned as a historic event by all regional media. The Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic brought the atmosphere to the point: „Let us, as Germany and France once did, all look forward together“. How can this new common ground manifest in the Western Balkans? Best through the joint overarching infrastructure projects, which were referred to as a priority in the second Western Balkans Conference in Vienna. An example: Sofia and Skopje are the only capitals in the region that have no continuous rail link. In 1866, the Sultan signed a decree on the expansion of railroads in the Ottoman Empire, which the territories of present-day Bulgaria and Macedonia were part of. Owing to the many following wars – first between former empires, then the Balkan Wars, then the 1st and 2nd World War, by the block division of Europe into East and West – there is no complete rail link to date. The relatively short railway line from the Macedonian side to the Bulgarian border (around Deve Bair) should now, as part of the European Corridor 8, be built. This is just one of many examples how development of the region could be advanced. How can this new common ground manifest in the Western Balkans? I believe that the EU should support this economic development strongly and promote the integration of the Western Balkans as European countries as soon as possible. The region is part of Europe and deserves to be considered as such. The fact that the region earned interest is also reflected in the activities of various countries from other regions of the world. China is very active in the region and shows strategic thinking and rapid reaction with the ”16 plus 1“ initiative. When we see the Western Balkans from this geopolitical perspective, the unity of Europe should also develop in this direction. SCHOOL. ARTS. BOARDING. » My school is a place where excellent schooling meets my passion for music and the arts. « Caroline K., Student WE INVITE YOU – 08 March 2016 | Open House | 09:00 – 15:00 – 12 May 2016 | Open House | 09:00 – 15:00 – 10 – 31 July 2016 | Summer Camps | age 5 –16 The former Ambassador of Bulgaria to Austria (2001-2005), an SEE and Balkans expert, is Secretary General of the Vienna Economic Forum, which she established in 2004. 50 Cercle Diplomatique 1/2016 “When we see the Western Balkans from a geopolitical perspective, the unity of Europe should also develop in the direction.“ AMADEUS VIENNA – WHERE EXCELLENCE MEETS PASSION INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL – MUSIC & THE ARTS – SUPERIOR BOARDING Bastiengasse 36 – 38 | 1180 Vienna | Austria +43 1 358 04 92 | firstname.lastname@example.org www.amadeus-vienna.com