“Austrian companies have begun to settle in Bosnia and Herzegovina and companies from the West Balkans are on the best way to establish themselves in Austria”, said Dr. Franz Schausberger, Chairman of the IRE and Special Advisor to the EU, at the opening of the discussion. Apart from the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the “most complex governmental systems in the world”, according to Schausberger, Austrian companies such as NETQM have successfully established themselves in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) for more than 10 years.
Since 2000, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a potential candidate for EU-membership. The overall state, however, is a complex construct which is divided into the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. Within the country, there are always difficulties in finding a common position aligns with the EU.
“It is hard to say whether we have the specific economic construction to become a member of the European Union, but we need to accept and accelerate those EU processes”, stressed Igor Davidović, former ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Washington and Brussels. This, above all, applies to investment in jobs to reduce unemployment. To achieve this, “regional cooperation between the various cities, cantons and municipalities is important, so that regions can be seen as attractive habitats and thus the rural exodus can be counteracted”.
In contemplation to reduce unemployment in BiH, Ambassador of BiH in Austria, Tomislav Leko, emphasized the need to improve the conditions for foreign investors, the introduction of a free-trade zone as well as the development of transport corridors. “In pursuance to develop towards the EU, the country needs foreign investments, otherwise the development of the country is difficult to achieve. BiH needs an EU-integration process for transnational development”, added the ambassador.
As an intermediary to promote the corresponding foreign investors in BiH, the telecommunication company MTEL Austria GmbH, which, according to the director, Dipl. Ing. Milenko Cvijanović, advises Austrian companies to invest in BiH. Based on this, the people from the West Balkan countries who live in Austria represent a “bridging-role” for outstanding cross-border relations.
Mag. Mladen Filipovic, head of the Republika Srpska office in Austria, drew attention to the priority of persons living in Diaspora from BiH. “BiH’s natural resources are its people”. It is only necessary to enter the country, which is accessible in just a few hours due to its central geographical location. Hence, this offers great advantages for companies. Additionally, a huge asset for investments are the “60 percent of jobseekers who have secondary or higher education”, says Filipovic and “30 percent of them are under 30 years of age”. To foster the entrepreneurial and economic potential of Austrian investments in BiH, low tax rates, low tax ratio of 33 percent of gross salary, cost-efficient labor and liberalized laws, have been provided to offers great incentives. Most importantly, the equal treatment of foreign investors paves the foundation for a successful economy.
Dr. Franz Schausberger, summarized the discussed free trade zone of the West Balkans as a first step towards the EU. To establish themselves within the European market, competitiveness must be achieved. The EU offers funds to facilitate easier access to the market. The panel discussion organized by the IRE opened the possibility of promoting economic contacts between Austria and BiH and thus, according to former Ambassador Igor Davidović, leading BiH to “no longer be an unknown partner for Austria”.