© Alen Gurovic/AFP/Europress
(ILO-BUDAPEST) The concept of welfare state is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those who cannot provide the minimal provisions of a good life for themselves or their families. In a welfare state, the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the social and economic well-being of its citizens through the provision of basic services such as education, healthcare, and social protection.
The Western Balkan countries are facing common challenges, such as population ageing, growing income inequality, emerging new forms of employment as well as increasing flows of migration including refugees. The European Commission has been continuously stressing that “all enlargement countries face major structural economic and social challenges, with low efficiency of public administrations and high unemployment rates”. Slow and weak recovery from the global economic crisis has created an unfavourable environment for a sustainable development of the Western Balkan countries. There is a need to initiate a broad, evidence-based debate and social dialogue on the future of the welfare state in the region—the conference was a first step to launch such a discussion.
In her opening speech, Ms. Zorana Mihajlovic, Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Construction and Transport of Serbia, said that the most important condition is political stability of the Western Balkans. The countries should achieve a higher level of social policy and social justice through joint initiatives.
“We should first of all improve the social policy and the quality of life in all countries of the Western Balkans, and talk about social investments. We need to discuss how to accommodate that structure to each individual country in the region to accelerate our way forward. We are working a lot to improve the state of our economy, but we need to turn more attention to investments into education, health protection and social justice – which is enshrined in each constitution” she said.
The Conference covered a wide range of topics addressing the challenges and options for welfare states in the Western Balkan. The ILO Budapest specialists, Kenichi Hirose and Daniela Zampini, acted as resource persons for the sessions on social protection for new forms of work and activation and integration policies, respectively.
At the concluding panel session, Ms. Isabel Ortiz, Director of Social Protection Department of the ILO stressed that short-term austerity measures and challenges should not undermine longer-term development. We should be bold and ambitious in aiming at equitable and universal social protection systems that are also sustainable. Adopting more innovative financing solutions based on social dialogue is the way to go forward.
Further information at http://futureofthewelfarestate.org/