Can Europe Help the Balkans Keep its Young Emigrants?

A big question, however, is whether opening EU accession talks, or even eventual membership, will actually persuade young and skilled women and men to stay in the region.

The answer gets more complicated when the Western Balkan six — Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia — are compared with neighbouring Croatia.

There, emigration rates have skyrocketed since — and despite — EU membership in 2013. Many Croats hoped that EU accession would provide enough incentives for people to stay in Croatia, but this did not happen.

So, can a little EU magic help? To most observers of the region, the situation looks grim in terms of emigration. 

The latest Eurostat figures say around 230,000 people left the region in the past year. The largest number emigrated from Albania — 62,000. This was followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina (53,500), Serbia (51,000), Kosovo (34,500), North Macedonia (24,300) and Montenegro (3,000). 

Gallup research has meanwhile shown that about 46 per cent of people in Serbia aged 15 to 29 want to leave with no intention of returning. Twenty-seven per cent of those with higher education expressed a wish to leave permanently. 

This comes at a cost to their countries.

According to a Westminster Foundation report from 2019, with four out of five young Serbs thinking about emigrating, this human outflow could potentially cost Serbia up to 1.2 billion euros per year.

No country in the region can afford this — but it is happening. 

The situation is similar in other countries in the region and these numbers should impress on everyone a sense of urgency. 

Compared with the economies of Western Europe, the countries of the region have little to offer. The six Western Balkan...

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