Croatia's experience shows that the process of integration with the European Union alone is not sufficient for economic progress and cooperation with neighbouring countries must therefore be closer, Croatian Economists' Association president Ljubo Jurcic said in Sarajevo on Wednesday.

Speaking at a regional economic forum, Jurcic said that contrary to expectations, the three years of Croatia's membership in the EU had not brought the country's economy or its citizens any visible benefits.

"That shows that integration alone does not bring any benefits," Jurcic said, noting that integration processes should go hand in hand with regional cooperation.

Countries in this region share similar economic problems and challenges in efforts to remove them, including the need to make political decisions that would encourage economic development, he said. 

Jurcic went on to say that Croatia's biggest problem was its inability to employ unemployed people.

Relying on one's own strength is the key to success, he said, adding that external help was welcome.

Serbian Economists' Association head Aleksandar Vlahovic supported closer economic cooperation in the Western Balkans, noting that the Western Balkan countries had compatible markets.

Vlahovic warned that that cooperation could be jeopardised by "the strengthening of extremist groups."

The Sarajevo business forum was organised by the economists' association of the Bosnian Serb entity of Republika Srpska (RS) and brought together several hundred participants, including Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency member Dragan Covic and RS President Milorad Dodik.

While Dodik spoke about the need to preserve the economic autonomy of Bosnia's two entities, Covic focused on the country's integration with the EU.

"I'm confident that in a year's time we will be given the status of an EU candidate," said Covic.

Both Dodik and Covic underlined the need to cooperate with the IMF so as to enable reforms and ensure the stability of public finances.

Even though Bosnia and Herzegovina and the IMF are still negotiating a new arrangement, Dodik said that the two sides would reach a final agreement in June and that the payment of the first loan instalment in the amount of EUR 537 million could be expected in July.

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