Swiss cooperation with Eastern Europe helps fledgling market economies with reforms

Bern, 16.11.2012 - Within the context of its transition aid, Switzerland has supported political and economic reform processes in Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) for over 20 years. At the annual conference on Swiss Cooperation with Eastern Europe, experts from the public and private sectors discussed the challenges and outcomes, focusing on employment in the Western Balkans.

The transition from one political and regulatory environment to another poses a major challenge to many countries. In the Western Balkans, for example, this is apparent on the labour market, with many people in these countries unable to obtain paid work. Disadvantaged groups, in particular, have great difficulty gaining access to the labour market. At the same time, employers complain that they struggle to find skilled workers. Various aspects of this difficult situation were highlighted by SECO and the SDC at the annual conference on Swiss Cooperation with Eastern Europe.

In his opening speech, Federal Councillor and Minister of Economic Affairs Johann N. Schneider-Ammann stressed that economic development was only possible if the country in question had the required skills and know-how. He also said that education was just as important as the private sector and job creation.

Reaffirming the findings of the 2013 World Development Report on Jobs, Mr Schneider-Ammann went on to say that, in transition economies in particular, a country's specific characteristics - such as its economic structure, demographics and institutional capacity - were decisive in defining the right measures for promoting employment.

Through its efforts in labour market policy, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) seeks to improve the framework conditions, strengthen public institutions, encourage private businesses to create jobs, and train job-seekers in the skills the market is looking for. SECO's long-term SME financing, in particular, is creating significant new employment, and its start-up fund has generated some 11,000 new jobs to date.

The focus of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is on modernising vocational training. The SDC places particular emphasis on increasing the level of cooperation between educational institutions and the private sector, to ensure that skills being taught match the market's requirements. Switzerland's dual vocational training system provides some valuable experience in this respect.

Meanwhile, older members of the workforce now also need upskilling. Another focal point of the Swiss engagement is the creation and expansion of efficient labour markets. Here, it is important to develop and connect public and private job centres and also to publish reliable up-to-date information and statistics on the labour market situation.

Bringing the conference to a close, SDC Director Martin Dahinden explained according to the text of his speech that the priorities of Swiss cooperation with Eastern Europe will be reoriented over the next four years: in future, Switzerland will concentrate more on fragile contexts, such as in central Asia, where political tensions have increased since 2006. He noted, however, that more attention would be given to cooperation with the private sector as well as governance and health programmes.

Swiss cooperation with Eastern Europe will also do more to address such global issues as climate change, water shortages and migration. "The results obtained in recent years have encouraged us to continue along the same path," said the SDC Director according to the text of his speech.

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