Minister of European Integration Jadranka Joksimović has opened today the seventh National Conference on Cross-border Cooperation, where she has emphasised that cross-border programmes – which Serbia implements with seven neighbouring countries – give strong and important impetus not only to the European integration process, but also to balanced territorial development.
According to Joksimović, the aim of territorial programmes is to use available EU funds to allow every citizen in every part of Serbia to feel some of the benefits of European integration, while balanced territorial development is an important component in which the EU has achieved some regional balance in the development of all its members, for which Serbia is also preparing as an accession country.
She has added that benefits are diverse, from local infrastructure to enhancing the potential for sustainable development of tourism which, according to her, has been particularly affected by this year’s COVID-19 crisis.
Furthermore, Joksimović has stressed that these programmes serve to set up “a new policy of the EU, and thus of Serbia and the Western Balkans” that will bring new growth in altered circumstances, namely the Green Agenda.
“These include projects in the area of environmental protection, climate change in general, as a factor that definitely impacts the new ways of production, thinking and consumption, and that is precisely why we included this component of the Green Agenda – projects related to environmental protection and raising awareness of the issue, as one of the programme priorities in all seven programmes we have defined for the following seven-year period”, said Joksimović.
Mentioning the following seven-year period, Joksimović has said that it relates to the new financial perspective 2021–2027, which is significant and is also connected to the European budget.
As regards the European budget, Joksimović has said that it has been put to a difficult test in the previous months, but that, these days, there have been indications that a compromise will be reached today at the EU Council.
“All other programmes depend on that, including those for us in the accession process and our programmes, but there are good indications that funds that have been envisaged will be available”, added the Minister.
Serbia is perhaps the country that has most successfully established structures and mechanisms for using pre-accession funds, said the Minister, adding in this regard that she has been the National IPA Coordinator for years and that she and her team from the Ministry and the Department for Cross-border Cooperation are intensively working on engaging all beneficiaries and stakeholders at the local level, including municipalities, regional development agencies and the civil society, so that they would help identify important projects.
They are simultaneously working on connecting all those municipalities with their counterparts from cross-border municipalities, with which they share interests and needs for a sort of new sustainable development in their respective areas.
“Serbia has demonstrated full capacity. We can always do better and more, and we should work more on organising training courses at the local level for project drafting, project preparation, and finding partners”, said Joksimović, adding that this has already been largely achieved.
Serbia has cross-border cooperation programmes with seven countries, some of which are EU member states, while others are accession countries or candidates for accession process. These include Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and recently North Macedonia.
So far, a total of 1,151 projects in the total value of EUR 406 million have been implemented through these programmes, including the reconstruction and refurbishment of the centre for early diagnosis of muscular diseases in children in Knjaževac, and procurement of specialised equipment for fire and flood protection in more than 20 cities.
Owing to the funds from the Serbia – Montenegro programme, a geographic system for better cross-border management of floods on the River Lim has been set up, while the programme with Hungary has enabled the opening of border crossing Bački Vinogradi – Ásotthalom, reconstruction of access roads at crossings Bački Breg, Bajmok and Đala, and improved infrastructure for flood control in northern Vojvodina.
The programme with Bulgaria has enabled the reconstruction and refurbishment of over 30 buildings, including two hospitals, three schools, seven sports fields and buildings, while the cooperation between Serbia and Romania has resulted in the reconstruction of hospitals in Požarevac, Smederevo, Vršac and Nova Crnja, networking of 12 hospitals through a special software, procurement of special equipment for cleaning, drainage and dredging of the Begej, the construction of the visitor centre at the Fetislam fortress in Kladovo, and the renovation of the church in the Municipality of Senta which included the restoration of one of the largest organs in Serbia.
The programme with Croatia has included the refurbishment of two laboratory centres which received state of the art IT equipment, while the Serbia – Bosnia and Herzegovina programme has resulted in the introduction of primary waste selection in the municipalities of Ub and Užice and a solid waste disposal system, and has enabled the purchase of all necessary equipment in the municipalities of Priboj, Rudo and Bajina Bašta.
Joksimović has stressed that it is important to recall all these projects so that people in Serbia and the media would pay greater attention to them, because they are sometimes unfairly overlooked in favour of high political topics, which indeed are the subject of European integration, as it is primarily a political process for the society. However, she has added that these projects are also part of European integration, and they have brought visible, tangible and significant benefits to the everyday life of every citizen in every part of Serbia.
“With all our heart and enthusiasm, we continue to carry out this task, particularly regarding cross-border projects”, stated the Minister.
She has added that one of the clusters in the new methodology, under which Serbia will continue its negotiations with the EU, will be dedicated to the cohesion policy. In that context, Joksimović has stressed that it is the cohesion policy that can ensure that the EU remains the best place to live and work, despite all its problems and a terrible year it has had.
“This is what also motivates us, and, in the following years, through this approach and active participation of the entire society, since European integration is a process for the entire society, the entire Government and for every one of us who work and use opportunities, we will strive to contribute to reaching the goal, where it is not only full membership that is the final goal, but it is also our goal to actually be able to say that life in Serbia is the same as in European countries”, said Joksimović.
The Minister has stated that this year has paradoxically proven that, although Serbia has not achieved some significant progress in the accession process and although the EU has been faced with Brexit and budget issues, Serbia has never been closer to the EU.
“That is because we have demonstrated economic resilience, we have not been a burden to anyone this year, we have responsibly dealt with the crisis, we have provided all our citizens with a level of health protection that not even citizens in all EU countries have had, we have demonstrated solidarity both within the country and with the EU, just as the EU has demonstrated solidarity with Serbia, we have entered the COVAX system – joint vaccine procurement with the EU, and we have entered the system of joint procurement of medical equipment with the EU”, added the Minister.
She has stressed that this year has shown that Serbia is a credible and true European country.
Joksimović has said that this year has brought much turbulence due to the crisis caused by the coronavirus, as well as in terms of the enlargement policy, which, according to her, is not that simple and in focus as it has been in the previous years.
She believes that this should not discourage but in a way motivate everyone, both the EU and accession countries, to do everything to reduce differences and to make the European continent united in the true sense of the word, thus becoming more competitive on the global market.
“This will bring benefits to every EU citizen, as well as every Serbian citizen”, emphasised the Minister.
She has conveyed her expectation that the upcoming year will be better for the entire world and that it will bring Serbia some process approximation in terms of progress in the negotiations.
“I believe that all of us together as a society can show a high level of resilience to the crisis that ensued, and that, through joint work at the local, regional and national level, we can all make the European future of Serbia a reality”, concluded Joksimović.