The European Union has issued a strong message of support for economic growth and jobs in its Eastern Partner countries, during two high-level Eastern Partnership (EaP) events held in Vienna on 6 and 7 December.
“It’s our aim to export stability, prosperity and consequently resilience in the area of the economy, society but also policy,” Commissioner for EU Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement, Johannes Hahn told the Eastern Partnership Business Forum on 6 December, adding: “If we are able to produce more economic strength, it leads to economic welfare and it protects you and your society against external influences, makes you more competitive, more attractive for your own citizens to have good prospects in your own country.”
The EaP Business Forum – organised with the support of the EU4Business Secretariat – was followed by the Eastern Partnership’s Annual Conference the next day. Both events were held under the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union ahead of next year’s 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership. They brought together senior representatives from the EU and its six Eastern Partners, including government stakeholders, representatives of EU institutions, international financial institutions, Members of the European Parliament, 350 companies from the EU and Partner Countries, as well as non-governmental representatives from think tanks, civil society, youth, and academia.
Commissioner Hahn repeated the message of support for economic development in his speech at the EaP Annual Conference on 7 December, which was held on the theme, ‘A stronger economy for stronger societies – Investing in people for sustainable growth’.
“Strengthening the economic development of our Eastern Partners is at the heart of our efforts towards ensuring a stable and prosperous neighbourhood,” he said, adding that, “small businesses play an essential role in building modern economies, due to their capacity to innovate and adapt to fast changing markets. Therefore they are absolutely crucial for job creation.”
The EaP Business Forum highlighted two key emerging sectors – energy efficiency and renewable sources, and IT and digital markets – which were discussed in two separate panel discussions.
Commissioner Hahn stressed the significance of energy efficiency as a contributor for sustainable employment – “energy efficiency is also an engine for jobs, which creates a lot of sustainable jobs and in particular local jobs.” Hahn also confirmed the EU’s intention to invest at least €50 million to harmonise digital markets. He said the new €11 million EU4Digital programme would be signed in the coming weeks and would complement a €7 million cyber security programme as well as support for startups through mentoring and seed funding.
Two of the three panel discussions at the EaP Annual Conference the next day also focused on business development and jobs, addressing the questions of ‘Improving the business environment in an inclusive manner: which actors and which measures can best contribute to stronger societies?’ and ‘Matching market needs and skills: how do we ensure that people are equipped with the right qualifications?’
The Business Forum ended with a B2B brokerage event, which facilitated a total of 285 B2B meetings, providing SMEs with the opportunity to share and discuss investment and business ideas.
Commissioner Hahn urged businesses to take advantage of the investment opportunities in the region: “All our six partner countries have a cohort of highly skilled scientists (mathematicians, technicians, engineers) while the EU suffers from a shortage of 350,000 Information and Communication Technology specialists. On the other hand, start-ups in the Eastern Partnership often lack critical skills (marketing and financial analysis) and are poorly connected with customers and value chain.”
Encouraging participants to network, discuss and share experience, he stressed the mutual interests and complementary strengths binding the EU and its Eastern Partners, expressing confidence that the B2B matchmaking sessions would “lead to new collaboration, and translate into new jobs and value creation”.