From March 1-2 of this year, the Prime Minister of Macedonia, Nikola Gruevski, convened his Investment Advisory Council for the purpose of developing a strategy to attract more foreign direct investment – and the jobs such investment creates – to his country.

In attendance were a number of high level government economic policy advisors, including most notably the Prime Minister himself as well as Bill Pavlevski, the Minister of Investments, and a number of other government advisors. Also attending was the Chief Operating Officer of Blue Star Strategies, Sally Painter, who was there among other prominent global executives.

Primary among the topics of discussion was the economic situation in Macedonia, which has demonstrated both encouraging successes and areas for growth.

From March 1-2 of this year, the Prime Minister of Macedonia, Nikola Gruevski, convened his Investment Advisory Council for the purpose of developing a strategy to attract more foreign direct investment – and the jobs such investment creates – to his country.

In attendance were a number of high level government economic policy advisors, including most notably the Prime Minister himself as well as Bill Pavlevski, the Minister of Investments, and a number of other government advisors. Also attending was the Chief Operating Officer of Blue Star Strategies, Sally Painter, who was there among other prominent global executives.

Primary among the topics of discussion was the economic situation in Macedonia, which has demonstrated both encouraging successes and areas for growth.

Even in the midst of the ongoing European economic crisis and the general stagnation of the continents major economies, Macedonia has posted significant economic growth. It is the second-fastest growing economy in Europe, after only Latvia.

However, there are still a number of structural challenges as well. Due to the mishandling of privatization of much of the state-owned economy in the early 1990s, there has been persistently problematic unemployment. To address the many people laid off who have been unable to reintegrate back into the active labor force, the government has been implementing numerous measures to encourage greater domestic and foreign investment. These have included lowered tax rates, financial incentives, and workforce training, among others.

Such economic stimulus measures have led to a number of concrete successes, especially in the realm of foreign investment from companies like Van Hool, Draxlmaier, Johnson Controls, Johnson Matthey, and Kemet Electronics. At the same time, there are still a great many opportunities for increasing investment in other sectors of the economy like the service industry, hospitality, and luxury goods.

In addition to economic policy and investment strategies, one of the top priorities raised by the Advisory Council was the issue of Macedonia’s potential accession to NATO. Macedonia is not facing any direct security concerns over its territorial integrity, but it is already a strong contributor to the European project and NATO missions in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Being officially welcomed into the Alliance will benefit the economy of the whole, by acting as a general validator for global companies that may be considering investing in Macedonia.

Unfortunately, since the failure of the 2008 Bucharest Summit to move the enlargement agenda forward, the issue has largely been put on hold by European and US leaders who have instead focused on the subsequent economic crisis. Macedonia’s accession was vetoed by a single country – Greece – due to an unrelated dispute over Macedonia’s name.

The naming issue has nothing to do with the central purpose of the Alliance – to provide for the common security and prosperity of Europe – and membership is supposed to be open to all countries that have met the requirements, which Macedonia has and then some. But the inability of NATO’s larger countries to move the process forward is symptomatic of a larger lack of leaders that also led to the stagnation of Membership Action Plans (MAPs) for Ukraine and Georgia. It seems to be no coincidence that shortly after the failure of their MAPs for NATO, both countries suffered territorial aggression from an opportunistic Russia.

As the group pointed out, the irony of Greece’s opposition is that, from an economic point of view, Greece itself would be a particular beneficiary of NATO accession for Macedonia. The added security guarantees for the region will contribute to economic stability, and, more importantly, increasing direct foreign investment in Macedonia will also be a huge boon for Greece. Most exports out of Macedonia, to the US or to the East, go through Greece and specifically its port in Thessaloniki.

Small markets like Macedonia depend especially on foreign investment and exports to drive their economic growth – and it is also in the interest of much larger economies like those of the US, Germany, the UK, and France, to support the stability of the Balkans by further integrating local success stories like Macedonia. As the meeting of Investment Advisory Council demonstrated, the Prime Minister is pursuing both economic and political paths to secure greater integration with Western markets – and the increased prosperity it will bring with it for both Macedonia and Southeast Europe.