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Elena Kirtcheva

“The EU should integrate the Western Balkans as soon as possible.“

Interview: Rainer Himmelfreundpointner


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


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


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.




» My school is a place

where excellent schooling

meets my passion for

music and the arts. «

Caroline K., Student


– 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.“





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