In the first quarter of 2016, real GDP in Croatia grew by 0.6% compared to the previous quarter, while the trend is upward, announced the Croatian National Bank recently. Serbia has also recorded favourable data on economic growth, which will probably surpass the initially expected two per cent. At other times these would have been weak numbers, but under conditions of the general slowdown in the global economy, every shift, even the smallest, brings a ray of optimism. This is especially the case given that both economies recorded worse results than those in the previous years.
Both economies are at a delicate juncture: one is slightly more indebted than the other, while both could do with still higher exports and stronger domestic consumption because with these trends they cannot reverse the spiral of increasing indebtedness. Likewise, both could also do with a greater government focus on structural reforms and less on political developments and on the internal front and in their mutual relations.
Although they belong to two different groups, with Croatia in the family of European countries and Serbia only one among a series of candidates waiting in the lobby, the two countries have many similar concerns. They are both struggling to cope with the stiff competition from European countries and must do a lot more work on raising the efficiency of their enterprises, innovations and on the education of the workforce.
Both countries are struggling with high unemployment, which is largely the result of a lack of adaptation of the education system, and both aspire to the German dual education model, which would provide the economy with well-educated and well-trained people able to progress from school desks to entering the manufacturing process. The two chambers of commerce, which lead the way in fostering good relations, are strong advocates of this process.
There is nothing strange in this because the game is speeding up. When Europe isn’t busy dealing with its internal political problems, it is interested in the challenges of the transition to the standards of Industry 4.0, which in itself adds the fruits of the Information Society and a highly trained workforce.
In the book “The Smartest Places on Earth: Why Rustbelts Are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation” by Antoine van Agtmael and Fred Bakker, which was published in April, the authors argue that economic and technological trends have enabled many older industrial cities in the United States and northern Europe to advance again.
Industry, therefore, in cooperation with the universities with which businesses and start-ups cooperate closely, is making a comeback in the developed world. This change shows that those who believe they can attract investors to the region by selling cheap labour are deeply mistaken.
The emergence of attractive start-ups in both countries shows that, in the shade of large companies, they develop agilely and based on modern platforms of entrepreneurial initiatives that see their country, region and the world as part of the same milieu
This has already been perceived by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, which – with the help of experts – devised the programme “Let’s Employ Croatia”. Its parts were met with interest by the new Croatian government, although it is also overwhelmed with an intraparty struggle. It seems that this is also at least declaratively being considered by the (new) government of Serbia, and its incumbent prime minister – who announced that his focus will (also) be on education.
Here we should add a reserve, first in connection with the very small support of the current Minister of Education to try to at least start this process and, second, that the funds and personnel that will be ready for this endeavour will be modest. Education will thus have to go through the treatment of austerity, which – if not performed well – will the schools stripped of their highest quality personnel for the second time in the last decade.
Through its regional initiatives, the EU has long been pushing all countries in the region precisely towards innovation and towards entrepreneurial initiatives. Here the chambers in the region also have an important role to play in encouraging new forms of entrepreneurship.
Although it sometimes seems that we rarely see them, the emergence of attractive start-ups in both countries shows that, in the shade of large companies, they develop agilely and based on modern platforms of entrepreneurial initiatives that see their country, region and the world as part of the same milieu.