European Union support worth 3.2 million euros for infrastructure projects proposed by 14 local self-governments from the Southeast and Southwest of Serbia.
Acting Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia Oskar Benedikt and the Acting Director of the European Integration Office of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, Ksenija Milenković, opened a fair of EU-funded projects in Pirot entitled "EU and Serbia at Work", exhibiting part of the European Union support provided to South East Serbia so far.
"Pirot is an excellent example of putting the European Union assistance to efficient use. It is one of the most successful municipalities in attracting EU funds and implementing EU projects," said Oskar Benedikt, the Acting Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, at the opening of the fair. He recalled that over the last 15 years the EU has provided more than three billion euros in grants for programmes and projects that encouraged the development and concrete reforms, while bringing benefits to the population, adding that it will continue to provide support as it has recognized the potential of this part of the country.
Ksenija Milenković, the Acting Director of the Serbian European Integration Office, said that Serbia was very successful in implementing projects and using the EU funding.
"In addition to cross-border cooperation, multimillion support has also been provided through the European PROGRES programme, aimed at upgrading infrastructure in the south of Serbia, primarily for hospitals, schools, kindergartens and business zones. At the EU projects fair today we have also presented 14 new local infrastructure projects contracted in the framework of the National IPA 2013 Programme, the first one implemented in the decentralised implementation system of EU funding," she said.
These projects, worth 3.2 million euros, will have a direct positive impact on the lives of people in the 14 municipalities included in the implementation of European PROGRES, that is, in Babušnica, Blace, Bujanovac, Leskovac, Merošina, Nova Varoš, Novi Pazar, Priboj, Prijepolje, Sjenica, Surdulica, Svrljig, Trgovište and Vranje, because infrastructure is a prerequisite for social and economic development. The projects will improve water supply systems, sewage systems, increase energy efficiency, as well as improve working conditions in kindergartens. They will also contribute to improving the overall business environment necessary for economic development, thus resulting in a better standard of living for citizens.
Visitors of the fair, including 14 deputy ambassadors of European countries, could acquaint themselves with the cross-border cooperation projects with Bulgaria, which are successfully managed by the Serbian European Integration Office, and the projects which were the most represented included those supported by the EU in the partnership with the Government of Switzerland through the development programme European PROGRES. Thus, the fair presented successful examples of support to social entrepreneurship, small- and medium-sized enterprises, which exhibited their products at the fair and showed how the EU contributes to the economic empowerment of vulnerable groups, and supports small business. The European PROGRES stalls featured a rich offer, where one could try tasty ajvar and fruit preserves produced by a social enterprise from Bosilegrad, Vlasina honey which is soon to obtain the protected geographical indication status with the EU support, cheese produced by the family dairy "Veličković" from Surdulica, and to see the offer of the tourist cluster „Stara Planina“, which brings together about 30 households.
The European Union has invested considerable funds in flood relief, and this support will continue into the next phase, in which activities will be focused on flood prevention, according to what was heard during the fair, at the stall presenting support provided so far to the flooded municipalities and future plans.
In the course of the fair, thematic debates were organized to discuss concrete benefits that citizens can gain through Serbia’s participation in various EU programmes, and in that context the concept of a new EU programme EU PRO for EU support to local development was presented to representatives of local self-governments, which will be launched next year.
The visitors of the fair also had the opportunity to see the exhibition "EU for Serbia," comprising a selection of photographs that represent successful examples of cooperation between Serbia and the EU in various domains of life - from education and support to local development, to environmental protection and support to refugees and displaced persons, to culture.
Before the opening of the EU projects fair, Oskar Benedikt, the Acting Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, and the deputy ambassadors of European countries visited the medieval fortress Kale in Pirot, for whose reconstruction the EU provided 500,000 euros. Benedikt said on that occasion that he believed Pirot would be able, owing to the reconstruction of the fortress, to increase the tourism potential of the city and its surroundings. Besides the Kale Fortress, deputy ambassadors of European countries visited today the Monastery of St. George in Temska and the Museum of Ponišavlje in Pirot.