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Speeches & TranscriptsDecember 1, 2023

Opening Remarks by World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia Antonella Bassani at Celebration of North Macedonia's 30 Years of Partnership with the World Bank

Dear Prime Minister, Dear Ministers, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests,

It is an honor to join you today as we celebrate the remarkable partnership between the World Bank and North Macedonia. We gather here to mark 30 years of collaboration, progress, and shared commitment to the development of this beautiful country.

When North Macedonia gained its independence in 1991, it embarked on a journey filled with hopes, dreams, and aspirations for a better future. And indeed, it has come a long way since then. Through early market-oriented reforms, trade openness, in the context of increased connectivity, and prudent macroeconomic policies, North Macedonia fostered a stable environment that attracted private investment and propelled exports, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

The first World Bank project for North Macedonia worth 80 million dollars was approved in 1994 to support the country’s economic reform program. At that time, annual inflation in the country exceeded 200 percent, and North Macedonia stood on the brink of economic collapse and uncontrollable social tensions.

Since then, over the course of three decades of transition, North Macedonia experienced the most stable economic growth in the Western Balkans. The income per capita has increased multifold, poverty has been reduced to below 20 percent, and the economy has become closely integrated with Europe and the rest of the world. Consequently, it has proudly moved from a low to upper-middle-income status, which is a testament to the resilience, determination, and hard work of the people of North Macedonia.

The World Bank has been privileged to stand shoulder to shoulder with North Macedonia, offering our unwavering support in good and bad times. We have worked tirelessly with you to strengthen institutions and support the country's macroeconomic fundamentals. We have stood together to tackle poverty, promote sustainable development, and create opportunities for all.

But, most importantly, we have remained focused on the most precious asset of North Macedonia: its people.

Throughout the years, we invested in early childhood development, upgraded school infrastructure, improved teacher training programs, and promoted inclusive education. By prioritizing education, through multiple partnerships, we have supported the empowerment of the youth of North Macedonia with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in a rapidly changing world.

Over the years, working together with the authorities, we have helped increase secondary school enrollment by 10 percent focusing on pupils from the most vulnerable families through a Conditional Cash Transfers Project. The project also improved financial literacy of around 200,000 social assistance beneficiaries who opened bank accounts in commercial banks.

Through another project: the Skills Development and Innovation Support Project, more than 11 thousand students benefited from practical training with small and medium-sized enterprises and large firms.

These achievements are just a glimpse of the diverse range of many initiatives that the World Bank and North Macedonia have undertaken together over these recent years.

However, as we celebrate 30 years of our successful collaboration and partnership, let me acknowledge that continued commitment to reforms and a bold vision for the future, within a steady EU accession path, are needed to bridge the gap in living standards between North Macedonia and its European counterparts.

Together, we must remain committed to strengthening institutions, supporting macroeconomic fundamentals, while greening the economy, and investing in human capital. We welcome the progress made by North Macedonia in the EU screening process over the past months and look forward to the swift completion of the next steps culminating with the full membership to the EU.

We are here in the Amphitheatre at the Saints Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje. It is a perfect venue to remind ourselves that we need to put all our energies and determination to deliver on our collective homework to guarantee access to quality education and relevant skills throughout their life cycle for the people of North Macedonia.

Many of you sitting here today: students, academics, young people, may be concerned about your job prospects or about the health of family members, for example. In fact, in North Macedonia today, the Human Capital Index (HCI), stands at 0.56, meaning that children born today will be about 44 percent less productive than they would have been, had they enjoyed full health and complete quality education. With high migration and rapid aging, by 2050, more than one-quarter of Macedonians will be over the age of 65. But North Macedonia is not alone in this challenge. In fact, these are the prospects of most countries in Europe.

Therefore, we need to think of policies and actions to reduce barriers to labor market participation, especially for women and youth. We need to help people living in rural areas have access to better public services, like schools and hospitals, so they can productively contribute to the economic development of the country throughout their lives. We need to invest in people to reduce the impact of aging in North Macedonia. At the same time, we need to shift our mindset towards ageing and migration to see them not just as constraints to growth, but as an opportunity to create new jobs and to increase prosperity for all. The focus of today's conference could not be more appropriate.

Ladies and gentlemen, with its strong track record in dealing with the most complex development issues, I strongly believe that North Macedonia can find its own path to solving these pressing problems, and in doing so, empower the people to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world and, with that, seize the opportunities that lie ahead.

As we embark on the next chapter of our partnership, let me reaffirm our shared commitment to sustainable development, inclusive growth, and a better future for all on a livable planet. The World Bank stands ready to continue to support North Macedonia on its journey towards prosperity, and we look forward to achieving even greater milestones together.

Thank you.


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