Pathway to EU Integration: Rural Development Policies of the Western Balkan Countries. The Case of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia
Study by: Nikola Trendov and Laszlo Vasa.
In the socialist era of Yugoslavia, the agricultural and rural policy was centralised and differed from the Western European and Soviet ones, where 83 percent of the arable land was in private ownership. The remaining 17 percent - the socalled “community property” – was owned by the state. In 1970, almost 50 percent of the labour force in Yugoslavia worked and 29 percent of the GDP was produced by agriculture activities. Nowadays, the Western Balkan countries (WBCs) are passing through transitions and rapid political changes, placing emphasis and high aspirations to become Member States of EU. Croatia became a full member on 1st July 2013. Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania are candidate countries, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidate countries. Due to the same historical and political background, all of them face similar challenges in transforming and modernising their highly fragmented rural
areas and local economic development in order to ensure they can be competitive and compatible with the complicated EU mechanism and regulations.
The doctrine of establishing suitable institutional framework in most of the
WB countries nowadays is still a particular trying of conducting mild changes,
while running the old agrarian policies (Bosnia and Serbia) and fearing that rapid changes might make dramatically inefficient regulations. For example, Republic of Macedonia is eligible for financial assistance for institutional building (EU IPA Funds), but unfortunately the capability of absorbing is on a lower level. According to Petranka Taleska, Republic of Macedonia used only 7 million euros (15.3 percent) from the planned 45.5 million euros for the IPA Component V, until June 2012.
Long bureaucratic procedures as well as the weak financial power of the individual farmers are mostly identified as problems for the low utilization of Component V. Adequate sustainability assessments, strong analytics and empirical researches are still not characteristics for the Rural Development Policy in the WB Region, where policy-making is preferably done on short-term period and based on the actual political needs. Most of the WBCs often just “copy-paste” the existing EU legislation and programmes already implemented in the Member States, rather than setting up gradual and locally suitable adoption mechanisms for effective accession approach. The changes made are mostly not followed by the previously analysed
or implemented measures and policies, but pending the given country becomes eligible and meets criteria for EU funds. Rural development policy is frequently changed and varies due to the political instability and unpredictable dynamic of EU accession.
The main challenges in the scope of rural development in Western Balkans are outlined in national strategic documents and policies focusing on predominant subsidised agriculture, low employment in the rural areas and lack of diversification of rural economy. The economic structure of the rural areas is based on natural resources exploitation and primary sector business operations, while tertiary sector shows insignificant use of its potential due to the lack of diversification of rural economy. The level of diversification is similar to all countries in the region and it is limited by unfavourable policies towards rural and agricultural development, although some progress has been made towards the closing of the 2007–2013 programming period in the Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro.