Eastern Europe and Southern Caucasus

HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation’s partner countries under its Eastern Europe Unit include Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia in the Western Balkans, and Armenia and Georgia in the southern Caucasus.

More democracy and jobs

The majority of the projects are mandates from donors (mainly the Swiss Agency for Development SDC) in the two thematic areas of: (i) market development and youth employment creation, and (ii) local governance and democracy building. Helvetas works with and through local partners in all countries and often manages its projects in consortiums. We foster a regional approach to learning and exchange, especially in the Western Balkans.

In Kosovo, for instance, Helvetas is promoting political decentralisation and a democratic culture by helping to make current systems and legal frameworks function better. Citizens’ forums are organised to increase trust in the authorities and between the different ethnic groups. People can voice their everyday problems and needs there and look for solutions together. Additionally, the project supports specific initiatives that have been developed autonomously by councils and community groups to improve the services delivered to the citizens.

Another focus for Helvetas is enhancing youth employment. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo for example, Helvetas is concentrating on (1) job creation in the emerging private sector by combining entrepreneurship and private sector stimulation, (2) strengthening intermediation services of public and private agencies and (3) developing in-demand skills through job search, training and placement services.
 
In the southern Caucasus, Helvetas is working mainly on developing and improving access to markets for small-scale farmers, increasing productivity and creating a business-enabling environment. Through support for improved production technologies, better conservation methods, business plans and access to improved production material, farmers will be able to increase the quality and quantity of agricultural products, and therefore their income.

Economic and political transformation

Although most Eastern European countries can demonstrate some success with reforms in recent years, systemic transformation is not yet complete. Political institutions are still weak and prone to malfunctions. Many areas still need to be strengthened while unemployment remains a pressing problem.
 
After the break-up of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the civil war of the 1990s, the former member states gradually became independent and sovereign countries. However, complicated organisational structures, widespread corruption and a weak legal system impede economic growth and political stability. A working market economy, greater domestic political stability and the country’s economic and political integration into the EU are the avowed objectives of Albania and former Yugoslav countries.

The economic growth that began at the end of the 1990s has not yet delivered clear benefits in terms of prosperity to the majority of the population. Unemployment, particularly among young people, and poverty are still common. Transition within the agricultural economy from a system of large collective cooperations to one of private farms is proving especially hard. Agricultural productivity in both the former Yugoslavian countries and Albania is still low by European standards.

Countries in the southern Caucasus have also faced huge challenges since the end of the Soviet Union and the independence it brought. Introducing democracy and free markets is essential. As part of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership, the countries are now striving for a rapprochement with European structures. They require help to bring about economic development to rural areas, combat youth unemployment and encourage political decentralisation.

Reference projects in Eastern Europe