Balkan Employers' Round Table – Current Challenges and Future Prospects

The importance of Social Dialogue, the role of employers' organisations, the economic situation in the Balkan countries, progress in the accession process and current political challenges:  these were main topics of the discussions at the Balkan Employers' Round Table that took place in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on 22 March 2017. The event brought together representatives of employers' organisations from former Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia).

In her introductory speech, Anja Kopač Mrak, Minister of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities (who is currently also the Chair of the Economic and Social Council of Slovenia), highlighted the tripartite and bipartite social dialogue in Slovenia, which dated back more than 20 years and was based on the Economic and Social Council's (ESC's) jointly-agreed rules of procedure, and not on legislation, as was the case in most other European countries. The Slovenian ESC was a tripartite body which cooperated constructively in drafting legislation, as well as participating in consultations on draft legislation. Its involvement was not only in connection with social and labour legislation but also related to all strategic documents of importance for the successful development of the economy, and thus of Slovenia as a whole (such as the National Reform Programme, the Social Pact, etc.).

Jacek Krawczyk, President of the Employers' Group, set out the role of the EESC and the Employers' Group in particular. He underlined that regional cooperation between countries and the sharing of best practice in social dialogue was the way forward. The Employers' Group was committed to continuing co-operation with employers and business organisations from the Balkans. Part of that co-operation took place within the framework of the EESC's Civil Society Forums and Joint Consultative Committees.

In his speech, the Director-General of BusinessEurope, Markus Beyrer, highlighted the role of BusinessEurope in EU-level social dialogue, and its importance in efforts to continue to increase the competitiveness of European industry. He particularly emphasised BusinessEurope's willingness to improve cooperation with employers' associations in the Balkans.

The head of the European Commission Representation in Slovenia, Zoran Stančič, summarised each Balkan country's position in the EU accession process and underlined the fact that social dialogue partners had a significant role to play in the accession process.

ZDS vice-president Miro Smrekar noted that the Round Table provided an excellent opportunity not only to promote social dialogue in Slovenia, but also to forge closer links between employers' organisations from the EU and former Yugoslavia. Mr Smrekar gave a presentation on the economic situation in Slovenia, which had been experiencing economic growth in the past three years, but was still affected by the economic crisis which had hit Slovenia twice as hard as the EU average. He stressed the rising need for qualified workers in Slovenia and the momentum of the highly export-oriented Slovenian economy.

The representatives of all the employers' organisations attending the meeting briefed one another on current political and economic developments in their respective countries. Employers from the countries wishing to join the EU set out a number of the challenges their countries were facing, such as the competitiveness gap and slow progress in negotiations. The participants agreed that building up regional cooperation would help prepare for EU membership.

The conference was jointly organised by the Employers' Group and the Association of Employers of Slovenia (ZDS)