Focusing on the welfare state issues in the six Western Balkan countries, a group of think-tank organizations and social policy researches has developed the Regional Platform with the aim to incite permanent discussion and act jointly in the areas of the welfare state at the regional level.
Most challenges identified in more developed countries are also present in the WBs, mainly in an even more acute and specific form. In European terms, poverty and risk of poverty are high in the Western Balkans. Most of the WB countries have a very low gross domestic product, unfavourable social situation, high unemployment and inadequate education and health outcomes, as well as inefficient executive government and administration. High emigration, high share of long-term unemployment, as well as widespread grey economy are specific challenges in this region. In the future, welfare states can also expect to be particularly affected by intensifying changes in household structure and acceleration of EU integration.
The existing and emerging challenges, as well as the possible increase of investment in the social sector under the assumption of growing budgets, create the need to review the different strategic choices and options to facilitate the enhancement of welfare states in the Western Balkans. The initial idea of the Regional Initiative is to engage the most prominent researchers and leaders in society with these issues.
The Regional Initiative intends to create added value through influencing existing processes which promote a sustainable reform agenda in the region, such as economic governance and Economic Reform Programme, EU negotiation process, Employment and Social Reform Programmes. One of the goals is the improvement of the social dimension of the European integration in the Western Balkans.
The accession of Western Balkan countries to the EU, although still an uncertain and distant prospect can bring advantages, but also implies challenges. The advantages are achievable owing to “soft” pressures to reach certain standards in the social sector, experience sharing and transfer of knowledge and ideas, imposing requirements to adopt relevant strategies and reports, possibilities of utilising education institutions, as well as access to European Social Funds. There are potential indirect influences in the economic sphere, as well as in terms of reinforcing the rule of law and strengthening democratic institutions. Challenges are also potentially important, which may include additional expenditures competing with social protection, creation of overly high expectations among citizens in terms of the capacities to meet various needs, imposing priorities and high standards, as well as lack of capacities to use European funds.
One of the key outputs of the initiative and tools of influence is holding of a regional annual event the Future of the Welfare State in the Western Balkans (informally named the Social Davos of the Western Balkans). The first regional conference is planned to be held in spring 2018 in Belgrade.