The EESC identifies the following challenges as affecting the economic development of rural areas in the Western Balkans:
- development of entrepreneurship is limited by factors such as underdeveloped infrastructure, lack of skilled labour, limited access to markets and to finance, lack of investment support and low entrepreneurial potential;
- rural development policies in the region which should assist the diversification of the rural economies are still inadequate and not in line with EU rural development policy;
- civil society does not play an important role in rural areas, due to lack of entrepreneurial and organisational skills.
The EESC recommends the following actions in order to improve rural development policies in the region and to diversify activities in rural areas:
- the EESC supports the idea of harmonising the criteria for defining rural areas at EU level, which would allow for better comparison with Western Balkan countries;
- the Western Balkans face numerous structural and socio-economic problems, to which solutions can be found in the framework of EU rural development policy and the common agricultural policy (CAP);
- the EU should consider the possibility of simplifying the IPARD management and control principles and procedures to facilitate effective use of funds and measures available;
- the EESC recommends greater flexibility in the use of pre-accession aid for rural development, in particular by abolishing differentiation between candidate and potential candidate countries in accessing assistance in agriculture and rural development;
- to be more effective in combating rural unemployment, poverty and exclusion, better coordination between different policies and various funds available is needed;
- to improve the quality of life and encourage young people to remain in rural areas, a more diversified rural economy is required. The main challenges in achieving this goal continue to be investment in rural infrastructure, better human capital, a good environment for entrepreneurs and improved social services.