Inequality in the Western Balkans - An Impediment for Joining the EU?

On May 16th, on the fringes of the EU Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, the FES organized an event titled "Inequality in the Western Balkans – An Impediment for Joining the EU?"

The core piece of the discussion was the recently published study Unequal Chances and Unjust Outcomes – Confronting Inequality in Southeast Europe. Mirna Jusić from the Sarajevo-based center for social research Analitika and the study’s author, presented some of its key findings, such as:

  • Governments in Southeast Europe are not devoting serious attention to the issue of inequality, which is detrimental to the entire region;
  • Deregulation policies for the labor market in fact are increasing precarious work in the region, while not lowering unemployment;
  • Social safety nets have been eroded by fiscal consolidation efforts.

Furthermore, the study argues that the envisaged socio-economic reforms under EU accession prospects do not address the issue of economic inequality enough.

The study favors a multidimensional response in terms of education, employment, taxation, and social policy to ameliorate the effects of economic inequality in the region, as it argues that the current measures are not enough and provides a set of general recommendations on how inequality could be reduced.

Sergej Stanishev, president of the Party of European Socialists commented on the main findings of the study and gave an overview on the efforts of Europe’s progressives on the matter. He affirmed that Europe showed commitment by introducing the European Pilar of Social Rights, but also emphasized that it was high time to put the commitments into practice. He remained optimistic regarding talks of a strong taxation element as well as wage increases in some countries, as they were included in the European semester.

To ensure that the root causes of inequality are addressed, the report argues in favor of multidimensional responses in the realms of education, employment, taxation and social policy, providing general recommendations on ways in which inequality in the region could be reduced.

Another commentator was the current Minister of Finance in Macedonia, Dragan Tevdovski. He reiterated the importance of creating policies for a fair society, highlighting recent measures in Macedonia when it comes to minimum wage increase, as well as a plan for the implementation of progressive taxation within the next year.

In the subsequent discussion, participants reaffirmed the need for policy measures, such as more progressive taxation or the strengthening of social dialogue, in the Western Balkans, as well as for a broader public debate on ways in which equality in the region could be enhanced.

A summary of the key messages and recommendations can be accessed here.

The full report is available here.

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