The representatives of the Economic Chamber and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Harald Mahrer and Karin Kneissl, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Economic Chambers of the Western Balkan states Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro. The aim is to strengthen regional cooperation at the economic level, particularly in the area of dual vocational training.
Austria has close historical, cultural and economic ties with the countries of South Eastern Europe and is also one of the largest foreign investors in the region.
During the Austrian Presidency of the EU Council in the past six months, the rapprochement of the region with the EU has been a foreign policy priority.
Strengthening regional cooperation, including at the economic level, remains a priority.
The new foreign trade strategy, which was presented last December in Vienna, also focuses on intensification, including dual vocational training, for which Austria is known worldwide.
The aim is to expand cooperation between the relevant Austrian institutions to implement dual vocational training projects in attractive third countries in order to reduce youth unemployment.
With the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the dialogue at company level should now be strengthened and the improvement of opportunities, especially for young people, made possible by better vocational training.
“As a common economic region, we will be 900,000 companies in the Western Balkans and Austria. Our goal is to create a trend-setting link between the Western Balkans and the whole of Europe, because this is indispensable in view of a common European perspective. We are therefore putting cooperation with the chambers of commerce of the Western Balkan states on a completely new level and establishing a well-organised regional hub. Investments, digitisation and qualification are the core issues of future cooperation and they are the basis for economic prosperity in the Western Balkans”, emphasised Harald Mahrer, President of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber.
The MoU was signed by Karin Kneissl, Harald Mahrer and Marko Cadez, President of the Economic Chamber of Serbia and current Chairman of the Westernbalkan Chambers Investment Forum (CIF).
The signatures were made also in the presence of the Presidents of the Economic Chambers of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro.
At the same time, the Chamber of Commerce will make available its Europe-wide awarded program “KMU Digital” as Best Practice within the scope of a know-how transfer. This program helps companies in the digital transformation process through consulting, further education offers and potential analyses.
“These two growth areas are the right levers to drive the rapprochement of the Western Balkan states to the European Union on an economic level. As far as the reform process in this region is concerned, I am deeply convinced that the development of sustainable economic structures is essential for the success of the further accession process,” said Mahrer.
From Foreign Minister Kneissl’s point of view, the future of South Eastern Europe must be clearly anchored in the European context: “Strengthening regional cooperation in South Eastern Europe is of great importance to me. It is a priority of our foreign policy to support the states of South Eastern Europe – which are part of Europe – on their way to the EU. It is important to create prospects for the people in the region. The mutual recognition of professional qualifications is essential here. Austria makes a valuable contribution to this through its commitment to dual vocational training”.
“It is important to create perspectives for the people in the region. The mutual recognition of vocational qualifications is an important step in this direction,” added Karin Kneissl.
President Cadez stressed in particular the consolidation of the already excellent partnership relations with the Austrian Chamber of Commerce: “This memorandum focuses on the important future areas in which we must not lose touch in the region. We can fall back on best practices in the areas of training and further education and in the megatopic of digitisation, the implementation of which will strengthen our locations and local economies”.
Cadez referred to Austria’s support for European integration with regard to the integration of the Western Balkan states in the EU and described the memorandum as a “visible sign of excellent cooperation”.
Implementation of digitisation measures has enormous potential
The particular relevance of this cooperation from a company perspective lies in the fact that a large number of companies are already developing digital products or services in the region or either with their own branches or partners.
The implementation of digitisation measures has enormous potential for the region, especially in the areas of public administration and e-health.
With regard to vocational training, the expansion of qualification measures analogous to dual training in Austria is an important contribution to securing skilled workers, especially for domestic branches abroad. The Serbian Chamber of Commerce, for example, is already a successful project for exporting dual vocational training to Serbia.
The cooperation is financed by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) within the framework of a cooperation lasting several years.
“Austria has already been successful in numerous projects in the region in the area of dual vocational training. This concerted economic activity fits in well with this. And I am pleased that ADA will provide financial support within the framework of a multi-year project to further strengthen the employability of young people,” says Martin Ledolter, Managing Director of the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the agency of Austrian Development Cooperation.
In the coming months, the six partner organisations and chambers of commerce will concretise their cooperation with their platform, the Western Balkan Chamber Investment Forum (WB6CIF), which was initiated as part of the Berlin Process in 2015.