CEB Research Paper: Social Infrastructure in the Western Balkans

#CEB research paper explores the potential of #socialinvestment - #education, #health, #housing - to counteract the effects of #braindrain and help #WesternBalkan countries achieve resilience.

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From the introduction:

This report is organised into five chapters that explore the economic setting, emigration causes and consequences, and social infrastructure conditions in the Western Balkans.

  • Chapter 1 – The Western Balkan Economic Environment offers a brief overview of the macroeconomic situation in the region, labour market conditions and labour productivity trends, and the fiscal position of governments.
  • Chapter 2 – Emigration from the Western Balkans examines emigration from the region and what motivates people to move abroad (a mix of concerns with economic conditions, governance, and quality of social infrastructure). The chapter explains the consequences of emigration in general, and especially on the region’s human capital through the brain drain of highly educated and skilled individuals
  • Chapter 3 – Obstacles in Education examines the current education systems (from early childhood to vocational education and training, VET) in Western Balkan countries, which often face issues with funding, material availability, and skilled staff shortages. In turn, this hampers the system’s ability to ensure students of all ages are able to acquire the best education outcomes and develop the
  • skills necessary for a fast-evolving and technologically oriented global economy. These shortcomings potentially negatively affect the region, as the pool of skilled labour diminishes as people move abroad and education systems fail to make up the loss by shoring up the skills of those left behind.
  • Chapter 4 – Challenges in Healthcare diagnoses how current health systems in the region often experience financing and resource deficiencies that result in the system’s inability to offer quality care to citizens and create high rates of individual health out-of-pocket expenditure. The already stretched health sector is also experiencing a significant outflow of medical professionals abroad and severe shortfalls in primary and preventative care. The poor health outcomes of many acts as a burden on the region’s economic activity as people prematurely drop out of the labour market and deteriorate individual and societal well-being. For those choosing to emigrate from the region, destination countries become more attractive with their more robust health systems, which enhance health outcomes and thus sustain people’s economic capabilities and well-being.
  • Chapter 5 – The Cost and Quality of Housing highlights how housing has become an increasingly pressing problem that underscores the wider socio-economic issues contributing to emigration. Most people encounter difficulties meeting the cost of maintaining existing homes, straining already stretched household budgets. An inadequate supply and rising prices of homes make it difficult to access the housing market (especially for vulnerable groups and the young); concurrently, there is a limited supply of social housing. Moreover, low quality, poorly insulated and overcrowded housing worsens human capital development and health outcomes for many.

The report offers a concluding remark that underscores the need for more targeted policy attention to social infrastructure and investments – which has historically been low in most Western Balkan countries - to safeguard the region’s human capital competitiveness. Moreover, if the EU’s investment agenda in the region (which has placed increased attention on developing human capital and mitigating emigration) is enacted, then this will provide the much-needed support for the region’s governments to improve their existing social infrastructure systems. Doing so will help the Western Balkan countries in their efforts to strengthen their human capital competitiveness and economic resilience, and help realise their ambition to achieve sustainable economic growth and socio-economic development.


Omic, E., Handeland, C. (2021). Social Infrastructure in the Western Balkans: Increasing the region’s economic resilience,
enhancing human capital and counteracting the effects of brain drain. Research Papers Series, Council of Europe Development
Bank, Paris, France.


ISSN 2789-8164 (online) ISSN 2789-8172 (print)
The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the CEB.
About the series
The “Research Papers” series is dedicated to academic (scientific) research on topics of relevance to the CEB social mandate,
of interest to peer (research) institutions and policy makers.
This publication was authored by Edo Omic and Cecilia Handeland. The work was overseen by Florian Meyerhoefer, Head of
Division, European Affairs and Studies.
Please cite this publication as:
Omic, E., Handeland, C. (2021). Social Infrastructure in the Western Balkans: Increasing the region’s economic resilience, enhancing human capital and counteracting the effects of brain drain. Research Papers Series, Council of Europe Development Bank, Paris, France.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the invaluable support and feedback received from the following colleagues: Vitomir Miles Raguz, Cristian Tabacaru, Monica Scatasta, Jérôme Halb, Jasmina Glisovic, Vassilis Petrides, Maria Sigüenza, Karin Lepp, Makedonka Mateska, Valeriu  Cosuleanu, Julianna Hyjek, Elizabeth O’Connor, Darko Petrovic, Samir Kulenovic, Thomas Kergall, Kristina Maslauskaite.

Layout and editing
Marie-Pascale Morain and Camilla Martens
Cover: Illustration by UnitoneVector with additional edits by Emilia Postolache/CEB

This is a publication of the CEB’s European Affairs and Studies Division. All rights reserved. All questions on rights and licensing should be addressed to

Document type
  • Report
  • Research paper


Publication Year


Geographical focus
  • Albania
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Kosovo*
  • Montenegro
  • Serbia
  • Western Balkans
Scientifc field / Thematic focus
  • Cross-thematic/Interdisciplinary
  • General

Entry created by Elke Dall on December 6, 2021
Modified on December 6, 2021