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15th Anniversary of the Business Advisory Council network

celebrated with international conference on “Leadership Against Crisis: Public-Private Cooperation for Growth”

The international conference on “Leadership Against Crisis: Public-Private Cooperation for Growth”, which took place in Thessaloniki, Greece, on May 31st and June 1st, was one of the most dynamic entrepreneurial initiatives of the last months in Southeastern Europe.

About the Business Advisory Council for SEE

The conference was organized on the occasion of the 15th Anniversary of the Business Advisory Council for Southeastern Europe and Eurasia (BAC SEE) – an independent, international network of businessmen and investors who voice the views and concerns of the business community on the challenges and opportunities facing the broader region. A select group of some 40 highly profiled members, BAC SEE serves an advisory role to policy makers from governments, regional initiatives, local business communities, European institutions, development organizations and IFIs.

First established in 1997 with the aim to mobilize cross-border business cooperation in the Balkans, BAC SEE celebrated in Thessaloniki 15 years of its work and achievements through a high power event. The occasion also served as an opportunity to announce the new regional dimension of BAC’s work. Having spearheaded cross-regional business cooperation in SEE, and working to facilitate trade and investment, BAC members are reaching out to Europe’s eastern neighbors and those regions where the private sector is eager to build new bridges of cooperation with Europe and the international community. The organization takes pride in developing practical cross-border initiatives in fields such as border crossing and trade facilitation (World Bank’s $72mTTFSE project), capacity building for the public sector (EPA project), e-governance (establishment of SEE Center for e-Governance Development), and rail transport (Cargo 10 train, linking Ljubljana and Istanbul three times more often, in less than 50% of the 2008 travel time).

The enlargement endeavor was warmly received by all BAC SEE members, as well as representatives of governments, European institutions, IFIs and national business institutions alike. Mr. Alex Munteanu (Dragon Capital, Ukraine) and Mr. Halil Kulluk (Intekno, Turkey) serve as the network’s Chairmen, a position formerly held by Mr. Rahmi Koc (Koc Holding, Turkey), Mr. Muhtar Kent (The Coca Cola Company, USA), Mr. Costa Corras (Porto Carras, Greece), Mr. Pierre Daures (Bouygues, France), Mr. Nikos Efthymiadis (Redestos, Greece), Mr. Aldo Fumagalli Romario (SOL, Italy), Mr. Georg Brodach (ABB Europe), Mr. Goran Radman (Microsoft, Croatia), and Mr. Samo Ivancic (AdriaMobil, Turkey). Mr. Victor Jackovich (Jackovich International, USA) serves as BAC SEE Deputy Chairman.

The conference

Honoring BAC members and their work, the Thessaloniki conference brought together more than 400 people, from more than 20 countries, and was supported by the Vienna Economic Forum and leading business institutions from Greece and Turkey. Participants included entrepreneurs; experts on investment, financing and international development; representatives of international institutions and regional organizations; representatives of national business bodies and governments.

Figures addressing the audience included – among others – Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Coca Cola Company, Mr. Muhtar Kent; Chairman of the Board and CEO of The Dow Company, Mr. Andrew Liveris; Deputy Secretary General of the OECD, Mr. Yves Leterme; former Austrian Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Erhard Busek; Vice President of the Koc Group, Mr. Temel Atay; Deputy Director General of DG REGIO, Mr. Normund Popens; President of Hellespont Shipping Corp, Mr. Basil Papacristidis; World Bank Country Director for Turkey, Mr. Martin Raiser; EBRD Country Director for Ukraine, Mr. Andre Kuusvek; BSTDB Finance Vice President, Mrs. Valentina Sicolvan; Chairman of the Board of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises, Mr. Dimitrios Daskalopoulos; CISCO Director General for Southeastern Europe, Mr. Peter Hajdu; President of Confindustria Balcani, Mr. Luigi Salvadori.

The spirit of discussions on the need for leadership is best summarized in two quotes. The first one is by Chairman of the Board and CEO of The Coca Cola Company, Mr. Muhtar Kent, who repeatedly stressed that “we cannot let a crisis go to waste”. The second is by former Austrian Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Erhard Busek, who noted that “the word crisis is derived from the Greek work `krino`, which means to judge and to decide”. If leaders desire to at least maintain the current global average level of living standards, then 700mn new jobs needs to be created within the next years. Approximately 90% of that will have to be created by the private sector, requiring governments to accept their weaknesses and develop synergies with the business community. Acting together to design and implement sensible development policies is an absolutely necessary precondition for growth in an environment of high competition.

The challenges facing the European development model were also touched upon by co-author of the World Bank’s study on “Golden Growth: Restoring the Lustre of the European Growth Model”, Mr. Martin Raiser. Europe has indeed been a convergence machine for more than 50 years; however, changing demographics and a slowdown of competitiveness comprise factors putting European successes at risk.
Despite the stress experienced by European institutions, Deputy Director General of DG Regio, Mr. Normund Popens confirmed the EU’s solid political commitment to integrate SEE economies. Implementation of the EU enlargement process has been a learning process for Brussels, now placing increased emphasis on entrepreneurship, business initiatives, capacity building, access to finance, innovation and SMEs development.

The integral correlation between innovation and competitiveness was raised by Mr. Peter Hajdu, CISCO Director General for SEE. The world’s most competitive economies are also the most innovative, attracting high added value investments andfacilitating start ups. Fragmented, incoherent and inconsistent regulations on innovation – especially technological innovation – and problems related with access to finance for new entrepreneurs have created a European environment that is not conducive to developing innovative products and services. It should come as no surprise that Israel alone has more start-up companies than all 27 EU member-states.

Greek drama and catharsis

Taking place in Greece, the conference had country-specific dimensions tied to it. Two special sessions were held, focusing on the improvement of bilateral Greek-Turkish business relations and on what may be in store for the country in the day after the current turmoil and crisis.

The Greek-Turkish business cooperation panel highlighted a spirit for more cross-border investment and economic cooperation. The session brought together entrepreneurs (active sectors like food, engineering, banking, manufacturing, paper, mining, aluminum, etc) who agreed on particular measure proposals to bring forward to both governments. Indicating further possibilities, bilateral trade volume in 2012 rose to $5bn, from approximately $400mn in 1999. One of the objectives of the organizers was also to use the experience of the two communities to develop a model of cross-border business cooperation that can be adopted throughout the region.

The closing session of the conference focused on shaping the country’s future and the role of the private sector in the process. It was widely acknowledged that a radical transformation of the Greek state apparatus and governance philosophy is instrumental. The healthy productive forces within the Greek business community are characterized by increased extroversion, effective management structures, innovative business models and high human capacities. However, noted by both Chairman of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises, Mr. Dimitris Daskalopoulos, and Head of the EU Task Force in Athens, Mrs. Georgette Lalis, as the state does not adapt to changing economic realities, the economy suffocates. The negative effects of corruption and the need to create a level playing field were highlighted by the President of Transparency International Hellas, Mr. Costas Bakouris.

Bucuresti, 14.06.2012

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